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Archive for the ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ Category

Hello, future readers!  I am sending you this message from the past–a time capsule of sorts, if you will–because prior commitments, also made in the past, will make it impossible, or at least inconvenient, to publish this manually at my usual time, which is to say “as close to my personal deadline as I can possibly manage”.  Soon enough I will catch up with this future, but right now this “past me” writing this.  So let “past me” welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold, and specifically those comprising the saga involving Vorkosigans, are dealt with in a certain amount of detail.  This week I deal with the final chapter and epilogue of Diplomatic Immunity, in which certain people continue to survive, receive recognition for their efforts, and execute an alarming transition in their perceived place in the universe.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar place.  There’s no tubes in his nose, and only vague memories of the desperate flight of his convoy, and the messages they heard about the escalating tensions between the two empires.  Ekaterin is bending over his bed, oddly enough, and with no medical mask or anything.  He sits up on one elbow and sees a room filled with obviously Cetagandan decor, including plants and a seascape out the window–almost certainly a simulated one, because he’s pretty sure he’s still on a spaceship.  Miles remembers the horrifying story they’d heard, of a batch of a thousand empty Star Crèche replicators found near Vorbarr Sultana, and asks urgently if they managed to head off the war yet.

Ekaterin pushes him back down on the bed and assures him that the urgent matters have been taken care of–mostly by her, even though strictly speaking Admiral Vorpatril shouldn’t have listened to her.  She kept insisting that Pel and Benin be given Miles’s messages, and once Benin was on the case matters got cleared up quickly.  Benin discovered that the ba had been quietly smuggling those replicators out a few at a time as part of its backup plan.  The Cetagandans have declared the affair an internal matter, and tensions are easing.  She says that without Pel’s name–and “Vorkosigan”–she probably wouldn’t have gotten through.

Miles says that last thing he remembers was four days out from Quaddiespace, and being very cold; Ekaterin says that the blood filter was barely keeping up with the infection, and his metabolism was losing energy.  In desperation, they put Bel and Miles into cold stasis, which put the parasites into hibernation, so they weren’t forced to resort to actual cryofreeze, to Miles’s relief.  She says they’ve been in orbit around Rho Ceta for about a day; Miles can tell she hasn’t been sleeping well.

Ekaterin says that Pel brought in a woman who seems to have cleared all of the parasites out of his system, and Bel’s; right now they’re on Pel’s own Star Crèche ship.  There was some unpleasantness about the Cetagandans refusal to let Roic, Clogston, or any of the Barrayaran men on board the ship, but they eventually settled for allowing Ekaterin and Nicol on.  Miles asks if Gupta was also cleared of any remnants of parasites–he hadn’t been that keen on getting back into Cetagandan hands, but Miles had convinced him of it–and Ekaterin says he’s been treated as well.  In fact, the Cetagandans are intensely interested in how he survived the bioweapon in the first place, but the Barrayarans still have him in their possession for the nonce.

He hesitated, and cleared his throat. “Um . . . I also seem to remember recording some messages. To my parents. And Mark and Ivan. And to little Aral and Helen. I hope you didn’t . . . you didn’t send them off already, did you?”

“I set them aside.”

“Oh, good. I’m afraid I wasn’t very coherent by then.”

“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “But they were very moving, I thought.”

“I put it off too long, I guess. You can erase them now.”

“Never,” she said, quite firmly.

“But I was babbling.”

“Nevertheless, I’m going to save them.” She stroked his hair, and her smile twisted. “Perhaps they can be recycled someday. After all . . . next time, you might not have time.”

Pel enters with another haut woman, undoubtedly her friend who had cured them of the parasites–no force bubbles, so obviously they consider themselves effectively in the heart of the Star Crèche itself.  She greets him and says she was surprised to meet him again, though it was not unwelcome; she assures him that the fetuses in the replicators have been checked and seem to be in good health.

Ekaterin asks Pel’s physician companion about the possible long-term effects of the infection, and she says she there will be some micro-scarring, which may lead to circulatory problems later in life; Miles wonders how this will interact with his existing seizure disorder.  Bel apparently suffered even more severe damage, and its muscles may be permanently damaged, so she recommends it stay in a low-gravity environment as much as possible, which it turns out won’t be that hard.  Miles vows to himself to get Bel a medical discharge from ImpSec and pension.

The physician leaves, and Pel says that Benin would like to talk to Miles; Miles agrees wholeheartedly, and asks about what happened to the ba.  Pel says that the ba has been returned to the Star Crèche, and they’re grateful for Benin’s assistance in dealing with any of its collaborators; Miles senses she doesn’t want to say much more about the ba, but he’s not ready to drop the subject yet.  He asks about the ba’s kidnapping of the child-ship, and Pel admits that the ba seemed to have been planning this for a long time, and poisoned the rest of the ship’s inhabitants before sending it into the sun–which she at least concedes as a fitting funeral pyre.

Miles asks about the bioweapons the ba was carrying; Pel tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a suitable topic, but Miles persists, saying that they will need assurances that there will be no further contagions on the Idris or Graf Station, and Pel finally grudgingly admits that the rest of the consort’s “supplies” were destroyed by their keeper before the ba could get its hands on them.  Miles suspects that that “keeper” might have been Pel’s physician’s counterpart on the Rho Cetan ship, and files this information away for later.

Pel also refuses to answer Miles’s questions on the ba’s motives, so he happily supplies her with his own theory–that this ba, a genetic sibling of Emperor Fletchir Giaja, was probably involved in the Dowager Empress’s earlier scheme, and saw this as some sort of continuation of the project.  Pel calls this close enough, and informs them that, the Emperor being pleased with them, they will be given the unprecedented honour of being present at the upcoming ceremony when the child-ship delivers the fetuses to the planet.  Miles says he’d rather just understand what was really going on in the ba’s head.

“Bear with me. I don’t think I’ve quite got it, yet. I suspect the haut—and the ba—are not so post-human yet as to be beyond self-deception, all the more subtle for their subtlety. I saw the ba’s face, when I destroyed that freezer case of genetic samples in front of it. Something shattered. Some last, desperate . . . something.” He had slain men’s bodies, and bore the mark, and knew it. He did not think he’d ever before slain a soul, yet left the body breathing, bereft and accusing. I have to understand this.

Pel was clearly not pleased to go on, but she understood the depth of a debt that could not be paid off with such trivialities as medals and ceremonies. “The ba, it seems,” she said slowly, “desired more than Lisbet’s vision. It planned a new empire—with itself as both emperor and empress. It stole the haut children of Rho Ceta not just as a core population for its planned new society, but as . . . mates. Consorts. Aspiring to even more than Fletchir Giaja’s genetic place, which, while part of the goal of haut, does not imagine itself the whole. Hubris,” she sighed. “Madness.”

“In other words,” breathed Miles, “the ba wanted children. In the only way it could . . . conceive.”

Pel admits that the Dowager Empress made a pet of the ba, treated it almost as a child, perhaps unwisely.  Miles can imagine the ba’s thinking, then, wondering why it doesn’t get everything that its half-sibling the Emperor does, coveting it…  Miles asks about the ba’s name, and Pel says that as punishment for its crime, its name will be forgotten and stricken from records.

The next morning, before local dawn, they are brought down to the surface of Rho Ceta in a lift van, to a grassy amphitheatre on a slope across from the planet’s capital city, filled with mourning-white haut-lady bubbles, and less-visible haut men.  Miles contemplates ghem-General Benin, in the van with them, and thinks that Benin’s recent experiences must have been immeasurably more stressful than Miles’s own, with the child-ship’s inexplicable disppearance, and the tantalizing clues leading to Komarr and Barrayar…  He had gladly answered Benin’s questions, but held firm on refusing to give up Gupta to the Cetagandans, and apparently his current esteem on Rho Ceta is enough to earn that much for him.

Nevertheless, Miles wondered where to drop Guppy when this was all over. Housing him in a Barrayaran jail was a useless expense to the Imperium. Turning him loose back on Jackson’s Whole was an invitation for him to return to his old haunts, and employment—no benefit to the neighbors, and a temptation to Cetagandan vengeance. He could think of one other nicely distant place to deposit a person of such speckled background and erratic talents, but was it fair to do that to Admiral Quinn . . . ? Bel had laughed, evilly, at the suggestion, till it had to stop to breathe.

Miles is helped into a floater, his strength not quite up to standing for very long yet, and he wants to husband it for the ceremony proper; Bel, not in any better shape, is in his own floater, accompanied by Nicol.  Benin leads them all up to meet the current Rho Cetan governor–a Degtiar, not one of the ones Miles had met at the Dowager Empress’s funeral–who greets them with a startlingly deep bow and offer of his household’s service.  After a brief conversation with Benin, the shuttle from the child-ship drops down to the amphitheatre, landing not too far from Miles and the others; the waiting Cetagandan haut quiet in anticipation.

Ekaterin and Roic help Miles out of his floater and he stands on his own for the ceremony.  The shuttle opens to disgorge a translucent, empty haut-bubble, in honour of the murdered Consort, followed by more bubbles, lead by Pel.  She stops in front of Benin and enjoins him to convey the Emperor’s thanks to the outlander guests.  Benin gives a thankfully subdued Bel Thorne a prized honour, Warrant of the Celestial House, and the same to Ekaterin.

“My Lord Vorkosigan,” Benin spoke.

Miles stepped forward a trifle apprehensively.

“My Imperial Master, the Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja, reminds me that true delicacy in the giving of gifts considers the tastes of the recipient. He therefore charges me only to convey to you his personal thanks, in his own Breath and Voice.”

First prize, the Cetagandan Order of Merit, and what an embarrassment that medal had been, a decade ago. Second prize, two Cetagandan Orders of Merit? Evidently not. Miles breathed a sigh of relief, only slightly tinged with regret. “Tell your Imperial Master from me that he is entirely welcome.”

“My Imperial Mistress, the Empress the haut Rian Degtiar, Handmaiden of the Star Crèche, also charged me to convey to you her own thanks, in her own Breath and Voice.”

Miles bowed perceptibly lower. “I am at her service in this.”

Pel moves forward and announces to Miles that the Star Crèche is “calling him up”–requesting a sample to be added to the haut gene-banks.  He’s sure that they probably already have a sample of his material from his previous visit–and his current one–but the formal addition is a great honour.  Pel takes a blood sample with skilled fingers, and ritually adds it to a freezer case.  Miles tells Pel that his talents are probably not genetic, but she shushes him gently.

Next the replicators themselves are offloaded by ghem-women and ba servitors, and haut men come forward to accept their new offspring, which Miles knows may will have been engendered without their participation, or probably even their consent; the Governor himself is among them.  The men take the replicators to their haut-mothers, whose bubbles change from white to any of a riotous assortment of colours.  The children will be delivered to their caretakers, and may never meet their parents again.  Miles wonders about these children’s eventual fates, and wonders if, in the future, one of them will turn into Barrayar’s greatest enemy, and the thought unsettles him.  The ceremony over, Miles says that it’s time to go home.

Comments

And so it proves that the ba’s plot was, in some ways, an offshoot of the plot of Cetaganda, the Dowager Empress’s plan to disperse the haut gene bank, although twisted by a somewhat deranged mind.  The ba was apparently pampered and indulged by the Empress, which they seem to regard as the only excuse for its behaviour, which implies they normally keep a much tighter rein on them.  And yet, they use them as prototypes for the haut genome–what do they expect, as the genetic sibling of someone thought suitable of being the Emperor himself?

Good to see Benin and Pel again; Benin must be in essentially the same position as Simon Illyan was, head of security for the Star Crèche vs. head of ImpSec…  And yet, he seems to get along well with Miles, or at least they understand each other well.  And Pel is certainly one of the more daring of the haut-ladies, and understands Miles well enough to accede to his wishes to fill in the gaps in his understanding of the case.  Even though she doubtless realizes that ImpSec will get their hands on all of this information.  Or maybe not; Rian seemed a little unworldly when she talked to Miles in Cetaganda, but then I suppose Pel is older and wiser.

Miles gets yet another layer of health problems here, because that was totally something he needed.  After all, all he had up to now was all that bone fragility from before he was born, and then the aftereffects of his death and cryorevival, including the seizures.  Oh, and I suppose there were those bleeding stomach ulcers, and his weird fast-penta reaction, but those are hardly worth mentioning.  And now he’s got “micro-scarring” in his muscles and blood vessels.  I can’t remember if that ever comes up as a concern in CryoBurn, but I guess I’ll find out in a few months…

Epilogue

They return to Komarr with Bel and Nicol, where Bel is given its final ImpSec debrief.  Miles comes along to try to make sure the herm doesn’t tire itself out unduly, but ends up being dragged off by Ekaterin when his stamina fails first.  Afterwards, Miles invites them, not for the first time, down to see Vorkosigan House, and experience Ma Kosti’s cooking.  Roic is patrolling in a hyperalert state, and Miles makes a mental note that Roic deserves a vacation when they get home.  Nicol says she’d prefer to go somewhere where she’s not going to need armsmen to protect her from the locals, and Ekaterin points out that they’re tired, homesick, and Bel needs to get home and relax.

Bel tells Miles to stick to less dangerous work from now on, since it doubts he’s going to get a third chance.  Miles says that he’s likely to have lots of tedious work at home to keep him busy, like his last job, coming up with new bio-law for Barrayar.  He asks Bel to keep an eye on Corbeau, and Nicol says that she’d heard from Garnet Five that he’s not doing too bad so far; Bel says that they can come visit Quaddiespace again sometime.  They bid Bel and Nicol farewell, and then are drawn to the Kestrel, to take them home, with birth-clocks ticking madly in their heads.  Gregor has invited them to a reception upon their return, but they’ve also heard that the doctors can’t keep their children in the replicators much longer, so first things first.

Miles gets in some practice with a cane instead of a floater during the trip back from Komarr, and his strength is returning slightly, but he’s still not at full strength when they arrive back at Vorkosigan House; he contemplates getting a sword-cane like Koudelka’s.  They enter to be greeted by Cordelia, Aral and Nikki; Miles is disconcerted to find himself looking up into Nikki’s face.  Cordelia relays messages from Beta Colony–Mark’s, awkward but heartfelt, as well as her mother’s.  Ekaterin’s brother Will Vorvayne is recording everything on video.  Aral congratulates Ekaterin on her diplomatic work, and says they can likely find a job for her if she wants, but she says she’s going to have enough work on her hands soon enough.  They wash up quickly and then head to the nursery.

With the addition of the birth team—an obstetrician, two medtechs, and a bio-mechanic—the small chamber overlooking the back garden was as full as it could hold. It seemed as public a birth as those poor monarchs’ wives in the old histories had ever endured, except that Ekaterin had the advantage of being upright, dressed, and dignified. All of the cheerful excitement, none of the blood or pain or fear. Miles decided that he approved.

Miles asks how they do this, and Cordelia says they can just each lift one latch, like they did with him.  They do so on both replicators, Ekaterin luminous with joy, and the obstetrician goes to work.  He takes Aral Alexander out first, and Miles holds his breath until he hears Aral’s first cry, tearing up; Cordelia has to fight to keep her hands to her sides, and Will Vorvayne jockeys around trying take his videos until his sister firmly tells him to stay back.  Ekaterin takes baby Aral while the obstetrician extracts baby Helen; Miles tries to absorb the existence and reality of this tiny baby, the little person which is now his.  Ekaterin hands the baby to Miles, who decides he should sit down first.  Helen Natalia cries much louder than her brother when she comes out.

With two babies to go around, all the people lined up to hold them would have their chances soon enough, Miles decided, accepting Helen Natalia, still making noise, from her grinning mother. They could wait a few more moments. He stared at the two bundles more than filling his lap in a kind of cosmic amazement.

“We did it,” he muttered to Ekaterin, now perching on the chair arm. “Why didn’t anybody stop us? Why aren’t there more regulations about this sort of thing? What fool in their right mind would put me in charge of a baby? Two babies?”

Her brows drew together in quizzical sympathy. “Don’t feel bad. I’m sitting here thinking that eleven years suddenly seems longer that I realized. I don’t remember anything about babies.”

“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you. Like, um, like flying a lightflyer.”

He had been the end point of human evolution. At this moment he abruptly felt more like a missing link. I thought I knew everything. Surely I knew nothing. How had his own life become such a surprise to him, so utterly rearranged? His brain had whirled with a thousand plans for these tiny lives, visions of the future both hopeful and dire, funny and fearful. For a moment, it seemed to come to a full stop. I have no idea who these two people are going to be.

Comments

Tradition holds that a TV series jumps the shark when they add new babies to the plot.  I’m not convinced that’s always true, though I can see some of the logic behind it.  Still, it’s a logical development in many people’s lives–committed relationship to marriage to parenthood is still a dominant sequence of events in Western culture, even if it’s not nearly as universal as it used to be.  It does often signal a transition in life from adventure, having fun, staying out till all hours, going out to movies whenever you want, and feeling the freedom to take stupid risks, in favour of being responsible.  Or maybe that’s just me.

I certainly empathize with Miles’s realization of his change of viewpoint in the last paragraph that I quoted there.  Sometimes parenthood is also a signal that a character is going to move back into the wings, to let their offspring take center stage.  As far as jumping the shark goes…well, I haven’t liked the last three Vorkosigan books as much as I did the four or five before that, but I don’t think I’d blame the babies for that.  Would it help to revitalize the series if we moved further forward, to let Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia, and their siblings, become main characters?  Maybe there’s too much soft-heartedness there.

So much of Miles’s storyline was driven by the awful things that happened before his birth, and with Bujold’s stated maxim of doing the worst possible thing to her characters, it may be that the only way to make his children interesting characters would be to do awful things to Miles himself, or Ekaterin, or Barrayar.  Would I want to read a book where half of the character we’d met on Barrayar get killed off by Cetagandans, or Jacksonians, or Cavilo?  Probably not.  Or one of the children could get kidnapped, and then they have to find him or her…  I don’t know.  I don’t have a good idea where the series should go next, and maybe there aren’t a lot of good stories left to tell about the Vorkosigans that aren’t either insanely dull or horribly painful.  So I’ll trust the author to keep trying, or not, as she wants, and try to judge each book on its own merits.


And on that note, let’s wrap up Diplomatic Immunity.  Not my favourite, though definitely exciting at points, and tying together all sorts of interesting threads from Cetaganda, “Labyrinth”, Mirror Dance, Falling Free, and most of the books in the series, really.  My usual week off, and then I’ll start on Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the first book in the reread that I’ve only read once, so far.  I think I’m going to take it a chapter at a time, at least to start, for a number of reasons, not least of which being that this is another one I only have a print copy of, so I’ll have to hand-type quotes or something, and hold the book open with one hand or weight down the pages…it just seems like it’ll be more work.  I’ll have to see how that turns out…

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Time is winding down, and eventually, like now, I’m going to have to give up waiting for inspiration to strike and give you another one of those dull and boring introductions.  So here it is.  Welcome to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Again.  Aren’t you glad you came back?  About now is when I hope that Scott Adams is right and nobody reads introductions, because I just have the same stuff to say over again.  Lois McMaster Bujold wrote a bunch of science fiction books in a sort of series, most of them having to do with a guy named Miles Vorkosigan, and I liked them so much I bought the company I read them over and over and then decided to be sneaky and read them over slowly, synopsizing them on a blog for random people on the Internet to read.  And this is it.  Or it will be soon.  Not in short choppy sentences like these ones, I’ll tell you.  I write a big long run-on sentence, and then I splice it to another one with a semicolon.  Want to see?  Well, as it happens I did a couple more chapters of Diplomatic Immunity, one of those Vorkosigan books I was talking about, and I’m going to paste it in below and you can see for yourself.

Chapter Sixteen

Miles imagines that the quaddies will stall as much as they can on the delivery of a pilot, but with the infection in his bloodstream, time is not on his side.  He calls Ekaterin, who turns out to be in the tactics room with Vorpatril, and so is up to date on current events.  He makes sure that she knows the truth about Bel’s situation, and asks her to use her judgement how much to relay to Nicol; Ekaterin says she thinks that Nicol can handle, and deserves, the whole truth.  He proceeds to let her know about the booby trap which has probably led him to be infected too; in the background he can hear Admiral Vorpatril cursing at the news.

He began again. “I’m . . . I’m sorry that . . . I wanted to give you—this wasn’t what I—I never wanted to bring you grief—”

“Miles. Stop that babbling at once.”

“Oh . . . uh, yes?”

Her voice sharpened. “If you die on me out here, I will not be grieved, I will be pissed. This is all very fine, love, but may I point out that you don’t have time to indulge in angst right now. You’re the man who used to rescue hostages for a living. You are not allowed to not get out of this one. So stop worrying about me and start paying attention to what you are doing. Are you listening to me, Miles Vorkosigan? Don’t you dare die! I won’t have it!”

That seemed definitive. Despite everything, he grinned. “Yes, dear,” he sang back meekly, heartened. This woman’s Vor ancestoresses had defended bastions in war, oh, yes.

He bids her farewell, carefully ignoring the anguish underlying her words, and decides he needs to get on with his hostage rescue.  It occurs to him to wonder whether the ba even knows about his former career as Admiral Naismith, or if it just thinks he’s some kind of diplomat, potentially out of his depth.  It doesn’t know which one of them may have fallen prey to its trap, either.  He wanders the infirmary, trying to determine which of the supplies there might be put to a more interesting usage.

He makes that the Clogston is ready to put Bel into a bod-pod in case of a loss of pressure, and shuts their inner door in case the automatic systems don’t cut in.  Clogston says they almost have a second blood filter ready for him, and Miles noncommittally asks them to let him know when it’s ready, though he doesn’t plan to tie himself down to it just yet.  He tries to determine what areas of the ship the ba can monitor from Nav/Com, and what its blind spots are.  If he takes out too many of its internal monitors, is it likely to panic and ram the station?

Miles realizes then that the ba is not acting very much like a professional agent, which would be destroying evidence and either trying to make it to safe or neutral ground, or just surrendering and waiting to be bailed out by their government–or, in extremis, committing suicide.  While it’s an interesting conclusion, it doesn’t help make the ba’s actions any more predictable.

Roic calls Miles on his wristcom channel; he says he’s switched into a work suit, and took the opportunity to put his own wristcom into his helmet.  He says he’s found some a cutter and some other nice tools, if he can get them to where Miles is; Miles tells him to cut his way through the decks to try to avoid cameras on the airseal doors.  Roic cuts his way through to the middle deck, and, by tapping on his ceiling, manages to find a panel close to Miles.  He cuts a hole through it and passes a small work suit through to Miles, who dons it hurriedly, taping his own wristcom into the helmet and setting the suit temperature as low as he can stand, and then jumps down to join Roic.

They sneak down to Solian’s office, where Miles is sure they can access as many of the monitors as the ba can; he checks them quickly and confirms that the ba couldn’t have seen them enter the office.  Miles considers how best to make a surprise attack on the ba, cutting through half a dozen bulkheads not seeming very feasible.  His vision is beginning to blur, and he’s shivering; Roic says that the admiral told him that he’s got the same thing that Thorne had.  He says he should’ve been the one to run the remote controls, or that Miles should have brought Jankowski instead.

Vorpatril interrupts to tell them, indignantly, that the quaddies seem to have caved and sent over a jump pilot; Miles wonders who they found to volunteer, and suspects that the quaddies have some kind of plan.  Vorpatril says that the quaddies cut him out of the loop, while he and Watts were arguing over whose strike team should get to go in.  One of the airlocks begins to activate, and Miles watches the vid as a naked man with pilot implants comes on board–Dmitri Corbeau.  Over the speakers, the ba forces Corbeau to show the contents of his mouth to its camera, and any other places he might be hiding anything; then it tells him to release the pod to drift away, and gives him instructions to go through the doors it opens for him.

Vorpatril wonders why the hell the quaddies sent Corbeau, and suggests he may be trying to desert; Miles considers it unlikely, but he wonders just who holds Corbeau’s loyalties right now.  Miles just spots three figures–Greenlaw and the other two quaddies on the ship–making their escape through one of the other airlocks while the ba’s attention is thus diverted.  Miles approves, meaning that the ship now contains fewer hostages, civilians, and non-Barrayarans.  They’re running out of time to insert a strike force, which should be done before the ship starts to move.

Miles finally manages to get a view of Nav/Com, but with no sound.  He sees the ba inject Corbeau with a hypospray of something, and wonders if it’s a drug, perhaps one with an antidote, one of his diseases, or an inoculation, or just a bluff; he suspects the latter, but it does seem to reduce the likelihood that Corbeau is colluding with the ba.

Over his wrist com, muffled as from a distance, Miles heard a sudden, startling bellow from Admiral Vorpatril: “What? That’s impossible. Have they gone mad? Not now . . .”

After a few more moments passed without further enlightenment, he murmured, “Um, Ekaterin? Are you still there?”

Her breath drew in. “Yes.”

“What’s going on?”

“Admiral Vorpatril was called away by his communications officer. Some sort of priority message from Sector Five headquarters just arrived. It seems to be something very urgent.”

Corbeau and the ba are going through preflight checks; Corbeau seems to be explaining his every move carefully, partly to defuse the ba’s suspicions, but also perhaps to stall.  Vorpatril returns to tell him that he’s been ordered to bring his ships to a rendezvous near Marilac at maximum speed.  Since one of the lesser-known purposes of the Komarran trade fleet escorts is to provide an innocuous way to keep Barrayaran ships deployed through the wormhole nexus, this makes perfect sense–but only in a dire emergency.

Marilac is, of course, a neighbour of the Cetagandan Empire, and Barrayaran fleets mustering there means that they’re intending to offer a threat to the Cetagandans.  Relations with the Cetagandans must have been dropping quite precipitously…and given Gregor’s earlier comment, it may very well have something to do with the Cetagandan ship Gupta and his friends encountered near Rho Ceta.  Miles’s mind works furiously as he wonders if that ship was actually sent to crash into the sun.  It must have been the annual ship sent out from the capital with the year’s crop of haut babies–and the ba who took those babies must be a renegade, not an agent at all.

“The crime isn’t murder,” Miles whispered, his eyes widening. “The crime is kidnapping.”

The murders had come subsequently, in an increasingly panicked cascade, as the ba, with good reason, attempted to bury its trail. Well, Guppy and his friends had surely been planned to die, as eyewitnesses to the fact that one person had not gone down with the rest on the doomed ship. A ship hijacked, if briefly, before its destruction—all the best hijackings were inside jobs, oh, yes. The Cetagandan government must be going insane over this.

“My lord, are you all right—?”

Ekaterin’s voice, in a fierce whisper: “No, don’t interrupt him. He’s thinking. He just makes those funny leaking noises when he’s thinking.”

As far as the Cetagandans could tell, the ship just disappeared on its way to Rho Ceta, and the only sign of what happened to it is Gupta.  And Gupta, unfortunately, led the trail straight to Komarr, to the Barrayaran Empire.  Miles uses the Emperor’s Voice to countermand the admiral’s orders, to Vorpatril’s relief; then, to his consternation, he orders all the records from the past twenty-four hours, and Gupta’s interrogation if possible, sent, on clear channel, to the Imperial Residence on Barrayar, as well as ImpSec HQ on Barrayar, ImpSec Galactic Affairs on Komarr, and to ghem-General Dag Benin on Eta Ceta (with the personal note “by Rian’s hair this one’s real, Dag”).

Vorpatril protests strongly, noting that Miles must have deduced that they’re on the verge of war with the Cetagandans, and asks Ekaterin if he’s started hallucinated or something; Ekaterin tells him that Miles just needs to “unpack” his reasoning a little more.  Miles explains that the ba is a criminal, who hijacked a ship, robbed it of the year’s crop of haut-babies, and disposed of it, resulting in the death of a planetary consort–and then shipped it out on a ship belonging to the Barrayaran Empress’s family, so the Cetagandans must be convinced of the Barrayaran’s complicity.  Only Gupta’s survival has ruined its plans, though Miles isn’t sure yet what those plans are, what, or who, the ba wanted the fetuses for in the first place.

Sealer Greenlaw’s voice breaks into the communication then, reporting that they’re back on board Graf Station.  She urges him to keep Vorpatril from launching any kind of strike force, since it’s been confirmed that the ba has a deadman switch on board to trigger the biohazard on the station.  She says that Corbeau had worked out a code, where he could communicate simple messages by blinking the Idris‘s running lights, and this was the word they got from him.  They’re searching for the bomb, but she doesn’t have high hopes for finding it when they don’t even know precisely what they’re looking for.  Vorpatril informs her that the Lord Auditor has been infected himself; Greenlaw expresses her sympathy, but Miles says he’s not dead yet, just before opening up his faceplate to vomit on the floor.

As Greenlaw and Vorpatril argue back and forth, Miles inspects Nav/Com, and finds a freezer case which must hold the ba’s samples.  He asks Greenlaw if they can signal back to Corbeau at all; Greenlaw confirms that they can, through a navigation buoy, and Miles asks them to tell him to open all the airseal doors in the central nacelle, and if possible kill the security cameras.  Miles then cuts off his voice feed and talks to Roic directly through helmet contact; he says that Greenlaw will never give approval for a strike force, but he thinks the ba will likely set off the bomb before leaving the system even if they cooperate.

He suggests that the two of them head for Nav/Com, where he will arrange a distraction for the ba while Roic jumps it.  Roic’s suit should hold off any weapon fire for long enough, and he assures Roic that the ba will not target Miles himself.  As long as Roic grabs its hands and keeps it from operate the deadman switch, they should be okay.  He spots the video feeds for the central nacelle going dark, and they prepare to move; he can barely hear, in the comlink, Ekaterin trying to reassure Vorpatril that Miles is trying something, and Clogston breaking in to inform them that Miles’s blood filter is ready.

Roic and Miles jog down the nacelle’s corridor, Miles feeling distinctly ill and wondering if he’s liable to have a seizure anytime soon.  The doors open for them just fine, until they reach the door to Nav/Com itself–which proves to have been cut open, not left unlocked, which Miles finds mildly reassuring.  Miles reassures Roic that he’s glad he didn’t bring Jankowksi, then lunges inside as soon as Roic opens the door for him.  He runs for the freezer case and holds it in front of him; as the ba is turning, in surprise and reaction, Miles finds it’s unlocked, and flips it open.  Sampling needles fly into the air and fall to the deck, many of them shattering; the ba moves towards him, hands extended in disbelief, and Roic grabs its wrists and lifts it up into the air.  Miles calls for Vorpatril to send in reinforcements, in biotainer suits, then he opens his faceplate to vomit again, at length.

It’s over. Can I please die now?

Except that it wasn’t over, not nearly. Greenlaw had played for fifty thousand lives. Now it was Miles’s turn to play for fifty million.

Comments

We finally get some more Ekaterin in this chapter, at least remotely.  She gets to bolster Miles’s sagging spirits, as well as helping interpret for him when his mind is racing past the comprehension of lesser mortals.  What would have happened if Vorpatril had concluded that Miles was delirious?  At what point can you safely stop obeying the orders of the Emperor’s Voice?  I suppose at about the time that people stopped obeying Mad Emperor Yuri, or the king that Jaime Lannister killed.  There might be no good choice, if you thought that an Imperial Auditor had defected to the enemy…

But Miles finally figures out most of what’s going on here, what may have been screamingly obvious to some after finding out about the odd departure trajectory of the Cetagandan ship off Rho Ceta.  The motivations of the ba (mostly referred to as such, no longer as Dubauer that much) are still a little obscure, but perhaps we’ll find out more about that later.

Corbeau’s appearance was kind of an “Oh, yeah!” kind of moment.  As in, here’s a somewhat-neglected character, who happens to be a pilot, so of course, who else could the author send in at that point?  It gives him some character redemption, and makes him less of a pouty lovesick screwup.  Roic gets some good action too, first cutting his way back to Miles, and then actually taking down the ba, or at least holding him at bay.

Chapter Seventeen

Two men from Vorpatril’s strike force carry Miles back to the infirmary, almost falling through the hole Roic had cut in the floor, followed by Roic, carrying the ba’s remote trigger, Corbeau, and the ba, bound to a float pallet.  Clogston declares the entire ship a Class Three Biocontamination Zone, so they don’t need to all crowd into the infirmary.  The ba is moved into the second ward, where it will be interrogated about the location of the bomb on Graf Station; since fast-penta is unlikely to work on it, it will probably require Barrayaran-style interrogation techniques, which the quaddies are unlikely to approve of.

Miles asks how Bel is doing, and Clogston says it seems to be delirious, asking for the Admiral; Miles immediately realizes it means Admiral Naismith, a.k.a. him, and hurries to its side.  Bel doesn’t seem to be in great shape, and keeps mumbling about “balla”.

Miles elbowed to the edge of Bel’s bunk to put himself in Bel’s line of sight, staring down at the herm in wild hope. Bel’s head jerked. The eyelids flickered up; the eyes widened. The blue lips tried to move again. Bel licked them, took a long inhalation, and tried once more. “Adm’ral! Portent. ‘S basti’d hid it in the balla. Tol’ me. Sadist’c basti’d.”

“Still going on about Admiral Vorpatril,” Clogston muttered in dismay.

“Not Admiral Vorpatril. Me,” breathed Miles. Did that witty mind still exist, in the bunker of its brain? Bel’s eyes were open, shifting to try to focus on him, as if Miles’s image wavered and blurred in the herm’s sight.

Bel knew a portent. No. Bel was trying to say something important. Bel wrestled death for the possession of its own mouth to try to get the message out. Balla? Ballistic? Balalaika? No—ballet!

Miles confirms that Bel is trying to say that the bomb is in the Minchenko Auditorium, probably hidden in the lights, and Bel adds that the device is likely homemade, so they should check for what Dubauer may have purchased on the station.  Miles relays this information to Sealer Greenlaw, though he notes that the ba could have been planting false information, but this gives her and Venn something to look for.  Miles calms Bel down with reassurances about Nicol and the vid cube of their potential children, and wonders if he’ll look that bad in a few hours.

He finally allows himself to be put on a hospital bed, though he demands a secured comconsole, and to keep his comlink.  He’s hooked up to the blood filter, though he finds the sensation of cold blood re-entering his body intensely unpleasant.  He tells Roic to give the trigger device to the bomb disposal tech when he arrives, then to supervise the ba’s interrogation.  He also tells Roic to make sure some qualified medical personnel go to check on the replicators and see that they’re kept alive and well, which he emphasizes is extremely important.  He wonders if they’ve been given the same infection as he and Bel, but he suspects that that wasn’t quite part of the ba’s instincts.

Roic returns in a few minutes to report that the ba seems to be mostly raving incoherently, and its physical condition is deteriorating as well; Miles says that it must be kept alive, as proof for the Cetagandans, and also asks if he can get any confirmation on the device’s placement in Minchenko Auditorium.  Roic says he’ll also tell the physicians about Miles’s seizures, since Miles hasn’t gotten around to that yet.

Miles’s comconsole arrives and he makes contact with Admiral Vorpatril; he tells the admiral to prepare a fast ship to carry him, Thorne, the ba, Gupta if possible, the thousand replicators, and guards and medical staff.  Ekaterin insists on coming along too, but Miles says she should follow in _Kestrel_ so as to stay out of medical quarantine.  He tells the admiral to start negotiating their passage right away, to Rho Ceta.

Vorpatril’s head jerked back in startlement. “If the orders I received from Sector Five HQ mean what we think, you’ll hardly get passage there. Reception by plasma fire and fusion shells the moment you pop out of the wormhole, would be what I’d expect.”

Unpack, Miles,” Ekaterin’s voice drifted in.

He grinned briefly at the familiar exasperation in her voice. “By the time we arrive there, I will have arranged our clearances with the Cetagandan Empire.” I hope. Or else they were all going to be in more trouble than Miles ever wanted to imagine. “Barrayar is bringing their kidnapped haut babies back to them. On the end of a long stick. I get to be the stick.”

He instructs Vorpatril to begin loading the cargo right away, and they will depart as soon as everybody is aboard.  Ekaterin says she’ll send over his seizure stimulator as soon as she’s back on the Kestrel, and they bid farewell through their holographic images.  Miles tries to fight off unpleasant images of his impending deliquescence and war between two empires, trying to cheer himself up with images of the medtechs trying to deal with a thousand squalling haut infants.

He is woken up from nightmares by a call from Sealer Greenlaw, who tells him, in vast relief, that they found the device in the auditorium.  He would have only had material for the one, based on his purchases, but it was a simple balloon filled with the contaminants, painted to camouflage it, with the remote trigger and another one set to be triggered by high-decibel sound.  Miles says it must have been set up after Gupta’s attack, when it realized that Cetagandans were likely on its trail, though its motivation is unclear–perhaps merely petty revenge.

Miles says they will need to leave soon, and mentions the orders from home, and the tensions with Cetaganda, and his plan to defuse it by bringing the evidence to them.  He notes that the ba, and Gupta, both committed crimes in Barrayaran and Cetagandan space before reaching quaddiespace, so submits that they have prior claim, not to mention that their very presence might be hazardous.  Greenlaw asks about their fines.

“Let . . . on my authority, I am willing to transfer of ownership of the _Idris_ to Graf Station, in lieu of all fines and expenses.” He added prudently, “As is.”

Her eyes sprang wide. She said indignantly, “The ship’s contaminated.”

“Yes. So we can’t take it anywhere anyway. Cleaning it up could be a nice little training exercise for your biocontrol people.” He decided not to mention the holes. “Even with that expense, you’ll come out ahead. I’m afraid the passengers’ insurance will have to eat the value of any of their cargo that can’t be cleared. But I’m really hopeful that most of it will not need to be quarantined. And you can let the rest of the fleet go.”

“And your men in our detention cells?”

“You let one of them out. Are you sorry? Can you not allow Lieutenant Corbeau’s courage to redeem his comrades? That has to be one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed, him walking naked and knowing into horror to save Graf Station.”

Greenlaw points out that Miles himself went after the ba, and Miles admits he’s got a bit of a gift for timing.  He also asks to bring Bel Thorne with him, who he feels responsible for, as part of his “work gang”, in the hopes that the haut women will be able to save him when they get to Cetagandan space.  Greenlaw accedes to his requests, though she reserves the right to levy further charges after they’ve assessed the _Idris_, which the Barrayarans can send someone else to work out.

Miles asks Clogston about Corbeau, and learns that the hypospray was a bluff after all.  Miles asks to see him, and Clogston concedes that Miles and Bel don’t seem to be directly contagious, except possibly through exchange of bodily fluids; Miles tries to shrug off visions of a future where he’s never fully cured, and never able to safely touch his wife again.  Corbeau comes in, and Miles thanks him for his heroic gesture; Corbeau says he did it for Garnet Five and the quaddies, but Miles says that he’ll doubtless get medals from other people if they want to.

Corbeau asks what Miles wants of him, and Miles says that since he’s forced to leave quaddiespace before completing his diplomatic goals, he’d like to leave someone behind as a full Barrayaran consul.  Someone who seems to like quaddies, and is willing to spend a couple of years away from home–someone like Corbeau himself; Miles doesn’t think that Vorpatril would object to having Corbeau taking off his hands.  Corbeau protests that he doesn’t have any training or experience for it, and Miles says that he has managed to make it through pilot training, which shows a certain amount of dedication, and he’ll be able to hire staff to assist him.  After two years, of course, he can muster out and stay in Quaddiespace if he desires.  Corbeau agrees to think about it, at least, and Miles dismisses him, willing to settle for that.

Miles immediately calls Ekaterin, who is about to leave the Prince Xav, and says they’re almost ready to leave Quaddiespace.  He asks her to give Garnet Five a call and pitch the consul idea to her, so that hopefully she can convince Corbeau to accept.  Thinking of Bel, he asks her to ask Nicol if she’d like to come along, perhaps on the Kestrel; the trip is unlikely to be fun for either him or Bel, and even if the haut can cure the infection, there will likely be a long convalescence.

Miles drowses for a while, reluctant to give way fully to sleep in case he never emerges.  First Bel, then himself, are evacuated from the Idris; on his way out, one of the officers confirms that they found Solian’s remains in a supposedly-empty bod-pod, which Miles tells him to bring along as further evidence.

Comments

Here begins the denouement, though things were knotted tightly enough that even this stage of it is still fairly tense.  The problem of the ba’s bio-bomb is settled, starting with Bel’s barely-coherent intelligence and relayed to Greenlaw and the capable quaddies.  We also have to tie up the problems we’re given at the outset, the detained Barrayarans and the diplomatic kerfuffle with the quaddies; I think Greenlaw gives in and accepts Miles’s offer at least partly because she’s tired of arguing with Miles, who has a lot of appealing logic on his side.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a stickler for counting diplomatic coup when there’s a war at stake, and possible involuntary involvement in it.  The literally tainted offer of the Idris is somewhat amusing, but I’m presuming that its original value is more than adequate for the fines that the Brrayarans have run up, however much Greenlaw hedges her bets about it.

Setting up Corbeau as a Barrayaran consul is a little more questionable, given Corbeau’s near-total lack of qualifications for it, whatever Miles says; I guess “likes quaddies”, as well as being a hero, will have to do for now.  At least he’s probably a step up from a part-time worker who handles paperwork for Cetagandans as well as Barrayarans (and she’ll probably still be on call).  One wonders if the position does continue after Corbeau’s mustering-out…

I can’t help but think that Miles having a seizure would be far from a good idea with the parasites in his bloodstream, both of them stressing out his system.  At least the parasites are supposed to stay clear of the brain, but still, it might have some kind of unsalutary effect on his body temperature, if nothing else.  The necessity for keeping track of the seizures must have been a bit of a pain for the author once it was introduced, because it has to come up every once in a while.  One wonders if the Cetagandans could have cured the disorder, but I suppose that even offering it would be considered a bit too much of a temptation for an Imperial Auditor, since it’d be viewed as a bribe, and it may even have been one.  For now he’s just got to live with it.

I’m always a little taken aback when a mention is made of the holographic display of a comconsole.  At some point everyone was certain that holographic displays were going to be the way of the future, but somehow they haven’t managed to manifest yet, except through special effects trickery, and it’s beginning to seem like they’re not going to.  Of course, ten years ago everyone said that picture phones were just never going pan out, too, and now people Skype all the time, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about.  In any case, I keep forgetting whether comconsoles are supposed to display holograms or use screens, or both, or either, depending on the model, and in general I just picture screens unless actually informed otherwise…


Only two chapters left–well, one and an epilogue–which is more denouement than I was guessing at last week.  I have a concert to go to next Wednesday, so with any luck I’ll get it done ahead of time and schedule it to go out a little early, and without luck I’ll finish it up on Thursday or something.  After that will be the usual week off, and then I guess it’ll be time for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which will be interesting, as a book I’ve only read once…

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Diplomatic Immunity…is what you get when you are inoculated by being injected with a small quantity of diplomacy, so that you can develop a resistance to it.  Or is that an allergy?  Welcome…to Night Vale the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover the works of Lois McMaster Bujold as they pertain to the life and career of Miles Vorkosigan (and friends and family).  This week we continue into the afore-alluded-to Diplomatic Immunity, as Miles fights for the life of his friend Bel Thorne…and a growing number of others, in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.

Chapter Fourteen

The first step in dealing with biocontamination, Miles knows, is to seal the area.  Miles contacts Venn.

“We’ve found Portmaster Thorne. Trapped in a bod pod in the engineering section. The herm appears dazed and very ill. I believe we have an urgent biocontamination emergency here, at least Class Three and possibly as bad as Class Five.” The most extreme level, biowarfare plague.

Miles ascertains from Venn that they haven’t left the ship, and nobody has been through the airlock; Venn agrees that he doesn’t want to risk any plagues getting back onto his station.  Next, Miles knows, is to contact medical authorities, as Venn is also going to do, but first he advises Venn that at the first opportunity he plans to undock the ship and make sure there’s vacuum between it and the station.  He also urges them to seal themselves off from the rest of the ship as much as possible.

Miles contemplates the bod-pod, which he decides is probably a half-decent seal, and wonders if Solian’s body was hidden in one too.  If so, then that means that a carrier of this disease in a bod-pod probably isn’t too contagious.  Bel’s case seems to coming along more quickly than Gupta and his shipmates, six hours rather than six days; Miles wonders if there’s anything he can do to stop it.

He contacts Admiral Vorpatril, who reports that the medtechs that he’s sent to examine Miles’s prisoner should have arrived by now.  Miles updates Vorpatril on the situation aboard the Idris; Vorpatril offers to send a ship to pick him up, but Miles refuses to risk spreading the contamination.  Vorpatril insists on sending the medtechs, at least, and Miles agrees to a few of them, but volunteers only, equipped to be as bio-impervious as possible, and warns that nobody will be able to leave the ship until this is all settled.

Trying to figure out what he can do to help Bel, Miles tries to think about Gupta and why he might have survived.  He recalls Gupta saying his body temperature was lower, especially immersed in water, and wonders if cooling Bel off might have a salutary effect; in particular, he recalls Ivan throwing him into an ice-bath once upon a time…  He tells Roic to go and get ice from the galley, and bring it to the infirmary.  Miles heads to the infirmary himself, where he confirms they have a treatment tub, and two biotainer suits, both too big for him and too small for Roic.

Roic returns to report an ample supply of ice, to find Miles already putting on one of the suits.  He tells Roic they’re going to bring Bel up here, and put him in an ice bath, and sends Roic off to find himself a pressure suit.  Roic does so, while Miles begins filling the tub with ice; he reports in a little while later to note that they’ll have to communicate over public, rather than secured, channels while he’s in it.  Miles seals up his suit, stunner outside but wristcom inside, and hauls a float pallet down to where Bel’s bodpod is, meeting Roic there.

Miles’s plan is to deflate Bel’s pod slightly, so they can flop it onto the pallet; of course they can’t vent it into the general atmosphere, so they rig up a plastic tube and tape it between Bel’s pod and one of the others.  The transfer of air proceeds smoothly, and Miles separates the pods again, wishing for a large quantity of disinfectant to clean up.  They get Bel onto the pallet and up to the infirmary, where Miles orders Roic to wait outside, overriding his protests; he turns on the molecular biocontainment barriers and then extricates Bel’s scorching hot body from the pod.  He manages to awkward slide the herm into the ice water, trying to keep Bel’s head out of it; Bel responds by trying to curl up its limbs, but Miles keeps them under the ice water, which starts noticeably melting.

It had been some years since Miles had last glimpsed Bel nude, in a field shower or donning or divesting space armor in a mercenary warship locker room. Fifty-something wasn’t old, for a Betan, but still, gravity was clearly gaining on Bel. On all of us. In their Dendarii days Bel had taken out its unrequited lust for Miles in a series of half-joking passes, half-regretfully declined. Miles repented his younger sexual reticence altogether, now. Profoundly. We should have taken our chances back then, when we were young and beautiful and didn’t even know it. And Bel had been beautiful, in its own ironic way, living and moving at ease in a body athletic, healthy, and trim.

Bel’s skin was blotched, mottled red and pale; the herm’s flesh, sliding and turning in the ice bath under Miles’s anxious hands, had an odd texture, by turns swollen tight or bruised like crushed fruit. Miles called Bel’s name, tried his best old Admiral Naismith Commands You voice, told a bad joke, all without penetrating the herm’s glazed stupor. It was a bad idea to cry in a biotainer suit, almost as bad as throwing up in a pressure suit. You couldn’t blot your eyes, or wipe your snot.

He is extremely startled to feel a hand on his shoulder, which proves to be Captain Clogston from the Prince Xav.  Miles briefs the surgeon, particularly on the Cetagandan weapon and Gupta’s survival, and his theory that low temperatures were what saved him.  Miles tries to impress on him–without blowing Bel’s cover–how important it is to save the herm’s life, and surgeon agrees that he and his squad will try, but asks Miles to leave and get decontaminated.  Miles agrees, and leaves as they start taking samples from the herm.

Miles leaves the infirmary and lets Roic decontaminate him very thoroughly, wishing he hadn’t promised to call Nicol; he decides that can wait until he has more infirmation from the doctor.  They switch from shouting through helmets to a public ship channel, then head for Nav/Com to detach from the station.  Roic says he’s never piloted a ship before, and Miles assures him airily that it’s not that hard, though even he is secretly daunted by the Idris‘s complicated controls.  After some careful searching, he finds the appropriate controls, notifies the quaddies, and manages to detach, move a short distance away from the station, and stop.  After he’s done he realizes that re-docking again will probably be a lot harder, but decides that by that time it’ll be safe to bring a real pilot on board.

The quaddies arrive in Nav/Com in their own biotainer suits–brought over by a drone pod, apparently.  Miles tries to consider what to do next; Roic points out that they still don’t know how the ba got off the ship, but all the hatches should have video automatically recording any time one of the airlocks opens.  Miles finds the engineer’s station, and he and Roic determine how to bring up the videos there.  They search back in time, finding the quaddies’ pod arrival, then the Barrayaran medical staff…and then, before that, an EVA suit leaving from one of the Necklin drive nacelles.  The last before that is Miles and the others arriving on the ship; the ba must have still been on board when they arrived.

Venn asks Miles about the range of those suits, and Miles says that they might be the equivalent of a personnel pod if fully supplied.  Venn says that the ba can’t possibly have gotten back aboard Graf Station, and Greenlaw says the station is in full quarantine, but if there’s a chance it’s gotten away from the station, they’ll have to extend it to all of Quaddiespace.  Miles tries to figure out what the ba’s next move is; looking at the image of the pressure suit gives him an idea.  He asks Roic if there’s a control station for the suits, and Roic leads him down to one near where he found his own suit.

At the control station, Miles turns on the helmet camera displays.  There are six suits, five of them seeming to be still in their lockers, and other somewhere against a curving wall, apparently unmoving.  The suit is powered up, and doesn’t seem very far away, given the lack of time lag.

The powered suit had to have an exterior control override somewhere; it was a common safety feature on these civilian models, in case its occupant should suddenly become injured, ill, or incapacitated . . . ah. There.

“What are you doing, m’lord?” asked Roic uneasily.

“I believe I can take control of the suit via the emergency overrides, and bring it back aboard.”

“Wit’ t’ ba inside? Is that a good idea?”

“We’ll know in a moment.”

He gripped the joysticks, slippery under his gloves, gained control of the suit’s jets, and tried a gentle puff. The suit slowly began to move, scraping along the wall and then turning away. The puzzling view resolved itself—he was looking at the outside of the Idris itself. The suit had been hidden, tucked in the angle between two nacelles. No one inside the suit fought back at this hijacking. A new and extremely disturbing thought crept up on Miles.

He beings the suit around to the nearest airlock and brings it inside.  Venn and Roic propose to go with their stunners and take care of whoever’s inside; Miles points out that if it was inhabited, they’d have been able to override his commands, and suggests that it might just contain Solian’s body.  Miles, Roic and Venn go to investigate the suit, and drag it inside the airlock, but when they take a look inside the faceplate, the suit proves to be empty.

Comments

A nice little touch is when Miles is signing off from talking to Venn, he almost says “Naismith out” before correcting himself.  I guess he’s not used to being in this kind of situation as Lord Auditor Vorkosigan yet.  Or maybe it’s the presence of Bel Thorne.  Would there be major consequences if he slipped up and it became generally known that he was Admiral Naismith?  The Cetagandans know, unofficially, at least, about it; would they be forced to take official notice of it at any point, and ask for a formal apology about the whole Marilac debacle, or would they just let it slide?  Would it boost Miles’s street cred, and make it seem less like nepotism that he gets to be an Imperial Auditor?  There’s still the whole Komarr wormhole secret for him to keep, at least.

The word “biocontamination”, or a form of it, is used six times in the chapter.  While normally I’m not fond of the English habit of just clipping off the first syllable or two of a word as an abbreviation (which usually discards the root and leaves the prefixes), that word is a little unwieldy…and yet it’s hard to think of a shorter replacement for it.  “Biocon”?  No, that’s a convention for biologists.  Or maybe biographers, or just living things.  (See what I mean about discarding the root?)

The whole remote suit-piloting thing reminds me of the battle in The Warrior’s Apprentice, when Miles comes up with the plan to override the enemy’s battle suits.  Somehow that memory never comes up for him, but then I guess maybe it wasn’t a significant event in his life or anything.  Or maybe it’s just dissimilar enough, or he’s just too busy thinking of other things to flash back to happier times.  I guess the author can’t always follow all the chains of reminiscence, especially by this point in the series.  So I suppose it’s up to me.

Chapter Fifteen

Venn warns Miles, needlessly, not to open the suit, then orders Security to search any ships that may have moved in the last three hours.  Miles tries to figure out how the ba may have made its escape, maybe with a personnel pod, but the quaddies have been watching the Idris, and probably would have noticed it.

Miles, palms itching, asks Roic if the suit had anything in its hand when it left the airlock; Roic said it had nothing.  Miles figured that the ba had come back on board to deal with its cargo–killing all the fetuses by poisoning their nutrients wouldn’t take that long, but collecting samples would…and if it had taken the time for that, it wouldn’t have left the samples behind on the ship.  That leaves his growing conviction that the ba is still on board…  He considers doing a check of pressure suits and airlock cameras, but he doesn’t have enough minions to do that quickly.  Instead, he suggests that they go back to Nav/Com, shut down the ship in sections, and do an armed search.

“M’lord,” said Roic in an uncharacteristically sharp voice, “what t’matter with your gloves?”

Miles stared down, turning up his hands. His breath congealed in his chest. The thin, tough fabric of his biotainer gloves was shredding away, hanging loose in strings; beneath the lattice, his palms showed red. Their itching seemed to redouble. His breath let loose again in a snarl of “Shit!

He tells Venn to take the quaddies to Nav and Com and secure themselves and the infirmary, and runs off to the infirmary, Roic in front of him to open doors.  He realizes that the contamination must have been on the remote control joysticks, which must have been coated with something, left as a trap for anyone who tried to bring the pressure suit back on–which convinces him even more that the ba never left the ship.

Miles rushes into the infirmary and begins to ask to wash his hands, but wonders if they’d be able to dispose of it safely.  He tells Captain Clogston about the trap on the joysticks, and asks him to send a tech to collect a sample.  Clogston uses a sonic scrubber to clean Miles’s hands, sucking up the debris with a vacuum, but the skin already seems to have been broken.  Clogston gets rid of his shredded gloves and replaces them, with some kind of ointment underneath, which at least stops Miles’s hands feeling worse.

Clogston says they’ve figured out what Bel’s suffering from–bioengineered parasites implanted in his body, to spread in their dormant phase, and then start releasing chemicals to burst the cell membranes open as the body heats up.  The ice bath has thankfully slowed down the process in Thorne, short of criticality, but they don’t have any ideas for treatment short of actually filtering and cooling all of it blood, and even that won’t deal with the ones that aren’t in the blood any more.  The silver lining is that the parasites don’t spread easily outside their host, so it’s not very transmissible.  Miles tells them that the Cetagandan is, unfortunately, likely still on board and armed with an unknown variety of bioweapons.

Captain Clogston cursed. “Hear that, boys?” he called to his techs over his suit com.

“Oh, great,” came a disgusted reply. “Just what we need right now.”

“Hey, at least it’s something we can shoot,” another voice remarked wistfully.

Ah, Barrayarans. Miles’s heart warmed. “On sight,” he confirmed. These were military medicos; they all bore sidearms, bless them.

Miles considers the defensiveness of the infirmary; Roic is guarding the entry point to the main ward, but Miles isn’t sure that’s enough.  It’s got its own air and power supply, and Clogston and his techs are in advanced suits that are functionally pressure suits, though Miles’s just filters external air.  He considers just ditching the rest of his suit, but he’s not sure if he’s been exposed yet, or if his gloves were only hit with a corrosive.  He sends Roic to fetch him the smallest pressure suit he can find, fumbling out his own stunner to take over the guard post.

There’s something he can’t figure out yet, and he hopes for a lull between crises to puzzle at it.  Why did the ba abandon the replicators filled with haut fetuses?  And why take samples, when it could get the original DNA from the Star Crèche files?  His anxiety over the parasites potentially breeding in his body makes it hard to concentrate, and leads him to wonder if he has the same thing as Bel, or something different, and how many different weapons the ba has in all.

Am I going to live long enough to say good-bye to Ekaterin? A good-bye kiss was right out, unless they pressed their lips to opposite sides of some really thick window of glass. He had so much to say to her; it seemed impossible to find where to start. Even more impossible by voice alone, over an open, unsecured public com link. Take care of the kids. Kiss them for me every night at bedtime, and tell them I loved them even if I never saw them. You won’t be alone—my parents will help you. Tell my parents . . . tell them . . . 

Was this damned thing starting up already, or were the hot panic and choking tears in his throat entirely self-induced? An enemy that attacked you from the inside out—you could try to turn yourself inside out to fight it, but you wouldn’t succeed—filthy weapon! Open channel or not, I’m calling her now. . . . 

Instead, Venn passes on a message from Admiral Vorpatril, who is annoyed at Miles not answering his wristcom; Miles sketches an explanation, though emphasizes that they’re on an open channel, and asks him to talk to Clogston instead, as long as he doesn’t distract the surgeon too much for his very important work.

Miles begins to hear the sound of seals activating, separating the ship into airtight sections, but Venn notifies him, a second later, that it’s not their doing–they’d doubled back to pick up their equipment.  Roic confirms that it’s not him either; Greenlaw castigates them all, and herself, for not thinking to lock Nav/Com behind them when they left.  Miles says the public channels he and Roic have been using will be accessible from there, and shortly thereafter they’re shut off entirely.  Miles activates the manual overrides for the infirmary’s environment, so the ba won’t be able to affect it,

Miles heads back into the ward to ask Clogston, through suit helmets, if he’s making progress.  Clogston says he’s working on a blood filter, but isn’t done quite yet.  One of the techs shows them the analysis of the stuff that ate Miles’s gloves, and sure enough, there are microencapsulated parasites in it.  Miles strips off a glove and lets them take a blood sample, which swiftly confirms that he is definitely infested too.

Since there’s no point in trying to keep from getting infected any more, he removes helmet his helmet and calls Vorpatril on his wristcom.  He summarizes the situation for the admiral, who says that the ba is definitely in Nav/Com, presenting its demands to Boss Watts on the station.  He patches it in for Miles, who hears the ba demand a jump pilot and free passage out of the system, or else it’ll blow up the ship or ram the station.  Greenlaw says that they can’t risk letting a plague-carrier like the ba out of the system, and the ba says it’s left a “small gift” on the station to ensure their cooperation.

Vorpatril cut in privately on the wrist com, in an unnecessarily lowered, tense tone, overriding the exchange between the ba and Watts. “Do you think the bastard’s bluffing, m’lord?”

“Doesn’t matter if it’s bluffing or not. I want it alive. Oh, God do I ever want it alive. Take that as a top priority and an order in the Emperor’s Voice, Admiral.”

After a small and, Miles hoped, thoughtful pause, Vorpatril returned, “Understood, my Lord Auditor.”

Vorpatril’s best strike team is still in detention on the station, but hopefully his second best will do.  He tells Vorpatril to keep it ready but wait for his order.  The ba’s final instruction is that the jump pilot be shipped out alone, in a personnel pod, and naked, for obvious reasons, and then it cuts the com.

Comments

I know by this point that Miles gets contaminated at some point, though I suppose I didn’t know that first time through, but so far I always forget exactly how it happens.  Even this time I missed the slippery control joysticks, and even the itchy palms, until Miles’s gloves began to disintegrate…  Sneaky, sneaky author.  Sort of like the way she hid Miles’s bleeding ulcer for so many chapters in The Warrior’s Apprentice, although not for nearly as long.  (See?  Reminiscences on demand.  Though I guess I’m not quite motivated enough to provide backlinks to old posts or anything…)

A lot of these chapters is concerned with little details of technology and setting–finding radio channels, environmental controls in the infirmary, pressure and biocontainment suits–and sometimes it diffuses the tension a bit.  Trying to remember who’s in what kind of suit, and having to waste conversation clarifying the radio channels…it takes me out of the story somewhat.  Miles is still several steps behind the ba, and while he may be catching up a little bit, he’s still in the reactive role.

Now the jeopardy is personal, but…now, it seems, to survive he’ll have to get into the ice bath and sit having his blood filtered by medical equipment, his freedom to actually act strongly curtailed.  So if he _does_ keep active, then it’ll affect his odds of survival.  Not that I seriously thought that he was going to die, but given what she’s done to him in the past, Bujold had a lot of leeway for reducing his quality of life from here on out.

Why is Miles so intent on bringing in the ba alive?  Just to get answers to all his nagging questions about its behaviour?  Not well expressed, alas, but at least he makes it clear to Vorpatril.  Not that I remember the ultimate fate of the ba at this point.

Two chapters without even a whisper of Ekaterin’s voice, and Miles is prevented from calling her at the last.  Does he get to talk to her at all before the denouement?  Guess this is why she doesn’t get viewpoint chapters, because the action is taking place nowhere near her.  Unless Bujold had wanted the contagion to be spreading all over the Prince Xav too, I suppose.  (That is where she is, right, or is she still on the Kestrel?  I’ve lost track.)  Still, this is definitely turning into Worst Honeymoon Ever.


Four chapters left, is it?  Well, it does seem like things are coming to a head, stakes continuing to rise and all that, so the next two, or possibly three, chapters should see things mostly wrapped up.  And then, my goodness, it’ll be time for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which should be interesting, as we get into the books I’ve only read once…

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The last day of April is winding its way to a close–Walpurgisnacht, the Canadian tax deadline (in years not affected by the Heartbleed bug, at least)–with the First of May, May Day, so close we can taste it.  On some planets, like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar, they don’t seem to celebrate either much–in fact, I’m not sure what the heck kind of calendar they have on Barrayar.  Anyway, it’s time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering another couple of chapters from one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, in this case Diplomatic Immunity, which includes a few Barrayarans but is mostly set on Graf Station in quaddiespace, populated by a four-armed (and zero-legged) free-fall-bred subrace.  This week I’ll cover Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, wherein, the mysterious fugitive Firka having been apprehended, we find out a lot of more about what’s really going on…

Chapter Twelve

Firka’s captors tell Miles that they caught him in a freight bay, after he tried to bribe one of them to take him out to another dock to catch a jumpship; Miles wonders briefly if Solian may have managed to disappear that way as well.  They strung him along and then captured him and brought him in.  When Nicol asks, they admit they didn’t see any sign of Bel–known to them all as a well-liked supervisor–though they did ask their prisoner before taping his mouth closed; they offer to put their ingenuity to work making him more eager to talk, which Venn politely declines, at least for now.  The patrollers take possession of Firka and his duffel bag, electing to keep him on the pole for now.

Sealer Greenlaw and an Adjudicator she introduces as Leutwyn have arrived by this point.  Miles clarifies their assumption that Firka came in with the Barrayarans, telling him he joined the ships after they docked, and accuses him of planting Solian’s blood, as well as the hot riveter assault and the attack on Bel and Garnet Five.  Miles asks the Adjudicator if all that, plus Bel’s unknown location, isn’t sufficient justification for a fast-penta interrogation.

“Here as well,” the adjudicator admitted. “But a fast-penta examination is a delicate undertaking. I’ve found, in the half dozen I’ve monitored, that it’s not nearly the magic wand most people think it is.”

Miles cleared his throat in fake diffidence. “I am tolerably familiar with the techniques, Adjudicator. I’ve conducted or sat in on over a hundred penta-assisted interrogations. And I’ve had it given to me twice.” No need to go into his idiosyncratic drug reaction that had made those two events such dizzyingly surreal and notably uninformative occasions.

“Oh,” said the quaddie adjudicator, sounding impressed despite himself, possibly especially with that last detail.

Miles says he’s fairly certain he has an ample supply of leading questions for the witness.  Venn points out that they need to process Firka first, and he wants to see what’s in his duffel bag.  They take Firka and his bag into a back room, take hand- and foot-prints (both do indeed prove to be webbed), and restrain him properly before untaping him from the pole.  The duffel contains clothes, weapons and tools, the receipt for the hot riveter, a blonde wig, and a dozen sets of identification.

They scan the IDs and find that half of them claim Jacksonian citizenship, and the rest claim citizenship to one of the Hegen Hub’s neighbours.  Three of the IDs bear the name Firka, but only one of them bears any resemblance to their captive, whose picture also graces the identification for Russo Gupta, and a jumpship engineer’s license from Jackson’s Whole that Miles says is almost certainly forged, to the quaddies’ shock.  The other IDs seem to be for other people, Grace and Hewlet, and other pseudonyms.  They remove the tape from the prisoner’s mouth, Miles suggesting the “pull-it-off-quick” method.

Chief Venn begins the interrogation, asking his real name, and he grudgingly admits to being Russo “Guppy” Gupta, and the other IDs belonging to dead friends.  Gupta insists that he doesn’t know Bel Thorne, and didn’t assault him or Garnet Five; Venn has Garnet Five herself brought in, to positively identify him.  Gupta admits, then, that he doesn’t know where the herm is, that he left it in the bin next to hers.  Venn asks Gupta if he’s willing to swear to that under fast-penta; Gupta claims to be allergic, but Miles produces allergy test patches and demonstrates that Gupta has even less of an allergy than Miles’s own mild case.

Venn tells Gupta it’s time to stop lying now, whether voluntarily or through fast-penta, and asks Leutwyn to confirm that they have cause for an “involuntary chemically assisted interrogation”, which he does.  Leutwyn does insist that they desist from treating their captive with unnecessary discomfort; when asked, Gupta admits he would like to spray his gills.  The quaddies test the solution he proposes to use, which proves to be little more than water and glycerin; Gupta agrees to behave and they remove his restraints, and he turns out to be thoroughly comfortable in free fall.  Gupta exposes his chest and expands his rubs, revealing gill slashes between them; he sprays them and seems to acquire some relief thereby.

Miles asks where he’s from, speculating on Jackson’s Whole, but unsure what House would have been responsible.  Gupta, impressed by Miles’s knowledge of the place, says he was made by House Dyan, part of an underwater ballet troupe, or at least their crew.  The late Baron Ryoval staged a takeover of House Dyan, and, perhaps fortunately, cut Gupta loose, to do odd jobs (and not necessarily legal ones, Miles suspects) for five or ten years.  Miles gets Gupta to clarify that he wasn’t shooting at Miles or Bel the other day; Gupta asks who Miles is, and Miles introduces himself, though devoid of honorifics, and just says he was sent by the Barrayarans.

What the devil was keeping that fast-penta? Miles softened his voice. “So what happened to your friends, Guppy?”

That fetched the amphibian’s attention again. “Double-crossed. Subjected, injected, infected . . . rejected. We were all taken in. Damned Cetagandan bastard. That wasn’t the Deal.”

Something inside Miles went on overdrive. Here’s the connection, finally. His smile grew charming, sympathetic, and his voice softened further. “Tell me about the Cetagandan bastard, Guppy.”

Gupta asks despairingly what the use is; Miles tells him that, as a Barrayaran, he has inherited a long-standing grudge against the Cetagandans who tried to take over his planet, and that certainly gets Gupta’s attention.  He tells Miles how the Cetagandan hired them, and their ship–Gras-Grace, the brains, Hewlet, the pilot, Firka, for books and documents, and Guppy himself for the tech, a bunch of misfit ex-Jacksonians.  Miles asks about the cargo, but all Gupta knew was that it was “gengineered mammals”, and part of the Deal was to not ask any more questions; Miles declines to fill him in further.  The pay was good, though.

All they were supposed to do was take the cargo from Vervain through the Hegen Hub, Pol and Komarr to Rho Ceta.  They took an unscheduled side trip to an uninhabited system before Komarr, to rendezvous with another ship, something Cetagandan and official-looking.  The Cetagandan moved all of his own cargo off of it, and then the ship went off on an odd trajectory, deeper into the gravity well.  The Cetagandan himself was travelling alone, and barely talked to anyone except Firka, who was fixing up the cargo manifest to give it a more innocuous origin; Miles asks about the Ker Dubauer name, and Gupta says he didn’t take on that identity until later, probably on Komarr.  Miles wonders how impSec is going to react, knowing that a Cetagandan operative like “Dubauer” passed right through Komarr without them noticing.

The Cetagandan, not yet Dubauer, parted from Gupta and his crew at Komarr–Gupta tracked him after that by the size and weight of his cargo–giving them cordial farewell handshakes.  Gras-Grace advised them not to linger in the Barrayaran empire, not even to spend their new wealth.  They were out past Pol before they started to get sick, fever and swollen pink welts from the points where the Cetagandan had last touched them.  Gupta retreated to the water-tank in his cabin, which he’d done up nicely, and floated there for hours, wracked with pain, before eventually he was forced to leave or begin fouling his water.  He was still feeling horrible when he got out, and threw up on the floor, but he could still walk; the ship was still running, but quiet.  He found the others, in various states of deliquescence, even their bones dissolving, steaming and stinking.

The ship was no good to him now, without a pilot, but he took everything that belonged to the others, including Firka’s cache of credit chits and doctored IDs, into a thoroughly decontaminated escape pod, and abandoned ship.  Three days later he was picked up by a passing ship, claimed his ship had fallen apart, and kept quiet about the biohazard.  He made it to Komarr, tracked Dubauer outward by his cargo, and headed for Graf Station to cut him off.

Miles asks about Solian; Gupta says he’d wanted to deal with Dubauer the first time he left the Idris, but he never did leave the ship.  To get on board, he had to take a cabin on the Rudra; he thought that if he couldn’t kill Dubauer himself, he could turn him over to the Barrayarans.  He made contact with Solian off the ship, and he supposes that Solian followed up on his tip and fell afoul of Dubauer, which probably got him melted like his shipmates.

Miles surmises that Solian had a nosebleed there, so Gupta was able to get a sample; Gupta says he’d spilled the blood because he didn’t want everyone to keep thinking Solian had deserted, and because he was afraid Dubauer would sneak off the Idris in mid-space again.  He didn’t know that the Barrayarans would end up attacking the station, though.

“Er . . . did you have any questions, Chief Venn?”

Venn was giving him a most peculiar stare. He shook his head, slowly, from side to side.

“Uh . . .” A young quaddie patroller Miles had barely noticed enter during Guppy’s urgent soliloquy held out a small, glittering object to his chief. “I have the fast-penta dose you ordered, sir . . . ?”

Venn took it and gazed over at Adjudicator Leutwyn.

Leutwyn cleared his throat. “Remarkable. I do believe, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, that is the first time I’ve ever seen a fast-penta interrogation conducted without the fast-penta.”

Miles glanced at Guppy, curled around himself in air, shivering a little. Smears of water still glistened at the corners of his eyes. “He . . . really wanted to tell somebody his story. He’s been dying to for weeks. There was just no one in the entire Nexus he could trust.”

Comments

Now everything is explained, more or less.  We know what happened to Solian, and why his blood ended up on the floor.  We know who the rogue riveter was, and who he was shooting at, and why.  That, and the Corbeau incident, pretty much led to the mess everyone was in.  We still don’t know precisely what the ba’s cargo is, or where it came from, but it seems pretty clear to me that the ship they rendezvoused with didn’t have a lot of people left alive when the ba sent it spiraling into the sun.  What happened on that ship?  I’m going to assume that the ba had some plan worked out with whoever was on that ship to get those fetuses, because why else would they have been meeting up with Guppy’s ship in a random uninhabited system, and then presumably double-crossed them and killed everybody, with more of that virus, or maybe something more airborne.

“Gras-Grace” is a weird name.  Maybe no worse than Guppy, but at least that makes a certain sense–Gupta + aquatic = Guppy.  Her ID card read Grace Nevatta…so where did the “Gras” come from?  The picture on there is described as “stout” and “pleasantly ugly”, so I guess it may be just from the French for “fat”, but Guppy never really explains it.

I always forget about House Dyan when I’m running through Jacksonian Houses in my head, but then I guess Fell, Bharaputra and Ryoval get the lion’s share of the attention, and Dyan got absorbed by Ryoval anyway.  I can’t remember the Houses that get mentioned in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, though, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it there.

Chapter Thirteen

Chief Venn asks Miles if he’s sure that the Cetagandan that Gupta is talking about is Dubauer; Miles says the blood sample he got confirms that Dubauer is a Cetagandan ba, and he explains to them what precisely that means, and wonders to himself what this ba is doing outside the Celestial Garden on Eta Ceta.  He tells them about the ba’s cargo, and nixes Venn’s suggestion to put out an APB on Dubauer; he warns them that if it knows they’re onto it, rattled as it doubtless is by now, mere civilians wouldn’t stand a chance against it.

“And your people brought this creature here, onto my station?”

“Believe me, if any of my people had known what the ba was before this, it would never have made it past Komarr. The trade fleet are dupes, innocent carriers, I’m sure.” Well, he wasn’t that sure—checking that airy assertion was going to be a high-priority problem for counterintelligence, back home.

Greenlaw asks if Gupta is likely to be contagious; Miles says he probably isn’t–at the very least, it seemed to be communicated by the ba’s touch, and if it comes from the Star Crèche the haut ladies would doubtless have made it self-limiting.  Gupta points out that he recovered from it, and Miles wonders why he did; he asks Gupta if he can have the Prince Xav‘s surgeon look at him and try to figure out why, but Gupta is too scared they’ll try to dissect him.

Greenlaw asks Miles about the Cetagandans, and why he’s so confident about this haut virus; Miles tries to explain the Cetagandan system to them, the ongoing haut genetic experiment which they slowly disseminate to the ghem.  Venn asks how the haut–who sounds like dissolute, idle aristocratic parasites to him–manage to keep the ghem in line, and Miles says that it’s rumoured the haut have an arsenal of biological weapons.  Greenlaw asks why they weren’t used on Barrayar then, and Miles admits they don’t really know the answer, but it’s suspected that it would have been considered too alarming to other nearby planets, and also that the war was mostly a ghem affair, the haut not being sufficiently concerned to contribute.  Most of the time they’ve heard of anything that might have been one of these bioweapons, it seems to have been an internal Cetagandan affair only, and they were all carefully contained.

Venn asks what they do with Gupta, then; Greenlaw says they should take him to the University clinic, where their best infectious disease experts can look at him.  Miles suggests that it would be safest if Dubauer doesn’t know that they have Gupta; since his capture has probably spread by word of mouth, he proposes they put it about that Gupta’s escaped, and put out the APB on him instead.  They keep his real location secret, and get some trained guards to watch over him, with experience with biohazards.  Greenlaw says they’ll have to get those in from Union Station Militia; Miles offers them Barrayaran medical corpsmen, which Greenlaw is dubious about, but she eventually agrees to take four volunteers.

Miles recommends that they stun Dubauer on sight, rather than risk contact; Adjudicator Leutwyn protests that that’s against regulations, but acquiesces, due to the threat of bioweapons.  Miles considers where they might be able to set up an ambush–one would be where it thinks they’ve taken Guppy, if they want to set up a fake holding area instead of pretending he escaped.  Another would be the Idris, where they could nail it the next time it asks to go on board; Gupta said that had been his plan.

Greenlaw says she’d like to take a look at the ba’s cargo, to see if she judges it a hazard to quaddiespace and meriting impoundment; Leutwyn points out that legally one is not normally allowed to do that with cargos not offloaded from their ships, unless they are a manifest danger where they are.  Miles thinks that impounding the cargo might be dangerous for quaddiespace, because it might make them a Cetagandan target.  Venn says he’d also like to come to the Idris to help set up the ambush; Miles insists on coming along, and Greenlaw eventually acquiesces.

Gupta is packed off by bio-protected quaddies, Nicol and Garnet Five head off to Nicol’s apartment to wait for news, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to arrange for the medical personnel to be sent over, and give him the disturbing news.  Then Miles and Roic head over to the _Idris_ with Venn, Greenlaw, Leutwyn, and two quaddie patrollers.  The two quaddie guards at the airlock, one of them playing jacks as they approach, report no unauthorized entrants.  Venn stays behind to start organizing the ambush, and the others enter the ship.

They go to look at the replicators in the cargo hold, which look to Miles much as yesterday, until he starts to notice some of them have amber indicators rather than green.  When he takes a closer look at the contents, he finds that one of the fetuses is clearly bleeding from some kind of wound in the back, which shouldn’t have happened inside a sealed replicator…  Venn receives a call from one of the guards from the previous shift, and relays the disturbing news that Bel Thorne brought Dubauer aboard at 0200 the night before, and he didn’t think anything of it until seeing the bulletin about Thorne’s disappearance that morning.  They don’t know yet when they left, and Venn heads off to check into it.

Miles is surprised; this would be only about an hour after Gupta left Bel in the recycling bin, and wonders how Bel was even conscious when Garnet Five didn’t wake up until hours later.

Roic, eyes narrowing, asked, “Could your herm friend have gone renegade, m’lord? Or been bribed?”

Adjudicator Leutwyn looked to Greenlaw, who looked sick with uncertainty.

“I would sooner doubt . . . myself,” said Miles. And that was slandering Bel. “Although the portmaster might have been bribed with a nerve disruptor muzzle pressed to its spine, or something equivalent.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to even try to imagine the ba’s bioweapon equivalent. “Bel would play for time.”

Miles surmises that Dubauer was looking for Gupta, and stumbled across Bel and Garnet Five after they were already unconscious.  The ba might have decided that grabbing Thorne and getting access to the Idris was a better plan than hunting down Gupta.  The ba had spoken of having to destroy its cargo, and taking samples before doing so; that may be what it’s been doing, and these fetuses may have some version of the bone-dissolving disease in them right now.

The Cetagandan wasn’t stupid. Its smuggling scheme might have gone according to plan, but for the slipup with Gupta. Who had followed the ba here, and drawn in Solian—whose disappearance had led to the muddle with Corbeau and Garnet Five, which had led to the bungled raid on the quaddie security post, which had resulted in the impoundment of the fleet, including the ba’s precious cargo. Miles knew exactly how it felt to watch a carefully planned mission slide down the toilet in a flush of random mischance. How would the ba respond to that sick, heart-pounding desperation? Miles had almost no sense of the person, despite meeting it twice. The ba was smooth and slick and self-controlled. It could kill with a touch, smiling.

But if the ba was paring down its payload to a minimum mass, it certainly wouldn’t saddle its escape with a prisoner.

Miles, afraid for Bel’s life, suggests that the herm may be aboard the Idris somewhere.  He suggests they search for it, though they need only look in places that Bel or Dubauer would have had access to.  He asks Greenlaw to keep anyone who hasn’t already been exposed from entering the Idris, and she agrees.  They go through the unsecured areas, finding nothing in unlocked cabins, kitchen or recreation areas, infirmary, nav/com and the rest of the cargo holds being sealed.

In the Small Repairs department Miles finds some of the Idris‘s bod pods, deflated…and one of them fully inflated.  Miles peers inside and sees a naked and clearly feverish Bel Thorne.

Comments

The lecture on the haut is pretty much a distillation of what Miles learned during the course of Cetaganda, though I don’t recall much detail about potential bioweapons in that book.  The theories about why the bioweapons weren’t used on Barrayar sound plausible, though some of it may be just that Bujold hadn’t fully come up with the haut in her head until after the Cetagandan invasion was established, and then had to come up with a reason herself.  Obviously the ghem weren’t afraid of using nuclear weapons, of course.

One wonders why Dubauer didn’t just take samples of the fetuses right at the outset.  The ba might very well have wanted the actual fetuses–I don’t recall what its motivations are right at the moment–but the samples must be an acceptable fallback.  It would have had more leisure time to secure these samples earlier in its trip, though, whether after infecting Guppy and his shipmates or on the Cetagandan ship or even on the docks at Komarr.  I guess it must have hoped the situation didn’t degenerate that far.  It’s amusing to consider its careful plan collapsing around it because of Gupta and Solian.

The news that the ba and the herm had already come on board the Idris, received only after they are already on board, was a nice twist.  Especially when Bel is still on there…and so, as Miles will probably soon realize, the ba probably is too…  And with unknown biohazards floating around, the whole ship may have just turned into a deathtrap.


So…immunity.  Get it?  Guppy has some weird kind of immunity!  And Miles is a diplomat, of sorts!  And “diplomatic immunity” is a phrase which exists!  …Yeah, that’s all I got about that title.  It’s not my favourite by any means, about on par with The Warrior’s ApprenticeMiles Vorkosigan and the Rogue Riveter?  Miles Vorkosigan and the Four-Armed Freaks?  Miles Vorkosigan in Quaddiespace?  Yeah, well.  Anyway.  Six more chapters left, three more weeks, with any luck.  So until the next one, I remain…that guy who does the Vorkosigan Saga Reread blog.

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Spring is springing, the grass is probably going to rise any day now, and maybe next month we’ll even get some leaves on the trees…  In the meantime, I lurk down in the basement (as I do in spring and summer too, I do confess) churning out another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread for you, distilling–or is that diluting?–the works of Lois McMaster Bujold into a more readibly assimilable form.  So let’s keep going through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan hopes for a break in the investigation of the disappearance of Lieutenant Solian on Graf Station…

Chapter Ten

Miles and Bel make arrangements for a message capsule containing Dubauer’s blood sample to be sent to the Prince Xav without being shot down by quaddie patrol ships, and it manages to reach the Barrayaran ship without incident.  After that’s accomplished, he actually takes time for a quick meal of military rations, still watching video records of the Idris‘s airlocks.  Dubauer had never left the ship until evicted with the rest, but Lieutenant Solian had left five times–the last one while he was off-shift.  Miles examines the last video record of him closely, but doesn’t spot evidence of a nosebleed; Solian looks intent on something, but they’re not sure what.  He’s not recorded on having left again, but his body was not found on the Idris.

Miles wonders where Solian went for forty minutes; Bel said he never crossed through customs, unless he was carried through rolled up in a carpet, and they’d have spotted that too.  He could have gone to any of the other Barrayaran ships, or any of six loading bays, but Brun has already said that Solian didn’t enter any of the other ships either.  Bel admits the loading bays aren’t closely monitored, and often used for games or exercise; Miles wonders if Solian talked to someone else from one of the ships.

After their meal, Bel escorts Miles to where the Komarran ships’ crews are being housed.  After fending off their initial clamouring to be released, Miles gathers the ships’ four medtechs.  He asks about their procedures, and how easy it would be to gain access to the infirmary; all of them state that while they’re in space the infirmary is left accessible all the time, in case of emergency, though some drugs are kept locked up.  In dock, they mostly rely on ship’s security to regulate who comes on board the ship, and two of the medtechs secure it entirely when they’re not there.

He asks about their blood synthesis equipment–they all have some–and the Idris medtech says that he’d certainly have noticed if several liters of blood had been synthesized, from the depleted stores.  Miles explains about how the blood that was found, that matched Solian’s, had been synthesized, and says they’ll have to check their supplies.  The tech from the Rudra recalls an odd-looking passenger who’d asked her about the blood synthesizer.

Miles smiled carefully. “Tell me more about your funny passenger.”

“He’d just signed on to the Rudra here at Graf Station. He said he was worried, if he had any accidents en route, because he couldn’t take standard blood substitutes on account of being so heavily gengineered. Which he was. I mean, I believed him about the blood compatibility problems. That’s why we carry the synthesizers, after all. He had the longest fingers—with webs. He told me he was an amphibian, which I didn’t quite believe, till he showed me his gill slits. His ribs opened out in the most astonishing fashion. He said he has to keep spraying his gills with moisturizer, when he travels, because the air on ships and stations is too dry for him.” She stopped, and swallowed.

Miles, excited but trying to hide it, asks when this was, and is told that it was two days before they were evacuated from the ships, and hence three days after Solian’s disappearance.  She says his name was Firka, and she would definitely recognize him if she saw him; when Miles asks, she says she’d be willing, if not eager, to testify under fast-penta.  Miles and Bel negotiate for the release of the medtechs as expert witnesses, and head over to the Rudra to inspect their synthesizer.  They do indeed find its stores down by four liters, and there’s still some residue that wasn’t cleaned up properly, which Miles eagerly takes a sample of for Prince Xav‘s surgeon.

Miles sends Roic to check the Rudra‘s records of Firka, and Bel off with the medtechs to crosscheck the other ships, while he returns to the Kestrel to send his new sample off to Prince Xav.  He checks on Firka’s current location–he’s staying at one of the hostels provided for the passengers, but has apparently gone out for the evening; Miles asks to be notified when he returns.  He then calls to check on Dubauer, who has also gone out, alone, which Miles finds odd for someone who was so adamant about getting an escort back from the Idris; Miles asks to be notified when it returns, too.

He scans through more vids from the Idris, not spotting anyone who seems to match Firka’s description.  Bel and Roic return, Bel saying that they didn’t find anything on the other ships’ synthesizers, and he’d sent the medtechs back.  Miles muses that now they have to wait–for the analysis of the blood samples, and for the return of Firka and Dubauer.  Bel says it sounds like a good time to sleep, and heads off to his and Nicol’s apartment.  Miles lies down for a nap, not wanting to update Venn until the blood tests are back.  Smolyani has disengaged the Kestrel from the airlock, for safety from the riveter, still at large; Graf Station is not a particularly hard place to hide, apparently.  Though Dubauer as a ba, with Star Crèche cargo, is a much more likely assassination target than the Betan Ker Dubauer; Miles hopes to be able to fast-penta Firka soon, though Dubauer is likely to be immune.

Roic awakens Miles when the surgeon calls him, after a four-hour nap that Miles deems sufficient; Roic has apparently not gone to sleep, and says he has something interesting from the Rudra‘s vids to show Miles.  Miles talks to the surgeon–a Captain Clogston–first; Clogston says the blood from the handkerchief is definitely Cetagandan haut, with some oddnesses that Miles identifies as ba.  Miles tells him to store that sample to send back to ImpSec for storage; the Cetagandans will doubtless be unhappy that a ba genetic sample has escaped, though admittedly it’s almost a century old by this point.  Clogston confirms that the other sample was definitely Solian’s synthesized blood, even the same batch.

After dismissing the surgeon’s call, Miles asks Roic what he found.  Roic found Firka on the Rudra‘s vids, having boarded the ship originally after the first delay for repairs.  He’d stayed in the cabin on the ship, but two of the times he’d left the ship exactly matched up with Solian’s, including Solian’s final forty-minute sojourn.  Roic finds an image of Firka to show him.

The man was tall, with pale unhealthy-looking skin and dark hair shaved close to his skull in a patchy, unflattering fuzz, like lichen on a boulder. Big nose, small ears, a lugubrious expression on his rubbery face—he looked strung out, actually, eyes dark and ringed. Long, skinny arms and legs; a loose tunic or poncho concealed the details of his big upper torso. His hands and feet were especially distinctive, and Miles zoomed in for close-ups. One hand was half-concealed in a cloth glove with the fingertips cut out, which hid the webs from a casual glance, but the other was ungloved and half-raised, and the webs showed distinctly, a dark rose color between the over-long fingers. The feet were concealed in soft boots or buskins, tied at the ankles, but they too were about double the length of a normal foot, though no wider. Could the fellow spread his webbed toes, when in the water, as he spread his webbed fingers, to make a broad flipper?

He recalled Ekaterin’s description of the passenger who had accosted her and Bel on their outing, that first day—he had the longest, narrowest hands and feet. Bel should get a look at this shortly. Miles let the vid run. The fellow had a somewhat shambling gait when he walked, lifting and setting down those almost clownish feet.

Roic says his documentation claims he’s from Aslund, though he’d arrived on a ship from Tau Ceti.  Aslund isn’t exactly a water-world, though, so Miles makes a note to double-check his origin with ImpSec.  Firka had apparently first tried to get a berth on Idris, and settled for Rudra because Idris was full.  Miles tries to determine why Firka might have generated a batch of Solian’s blood like that.  If he’d killed Solian, and used the blood to cover it up, it was a waste of effort, since nobody had come close to solving Solian’s murder/disappearance yet.  Had he been trying to frame someone else?

To cover up a desertion? Might Firka and Solian be collaborating on Solian’s defection? Or . . . when might a desertion not be a desertion? When it was an ImpSec covert ops scam, that’s when. Except that Solian was Service Security, not ImpSec: a guard, not a spy or trained agent. Still . . . a sufficiently bright, loyal, highly motivated, and ambitious officer, finding himself in some complex imbroglio, might not wait for orders from on high to pursue a fast-moving long shot. As Miles had reason to know.

Of course, taking risky chances like that could get such an officer killed. As Miles also had reason to know.

If it hadn’t been for the incident with Corbeau, what would have come of the blood dumping?  It would certainly have reawakened interest in Solian’s disappearance, and delayed the fleet’s departure, much as the Corbeau incident had.  Miles considers briefly whether Garnet Five might not have engineered that incident somehow…

Roic says there’s no clear footage of Firka taking containers of blood off the ship, but he did take various boxes back and forth, so he could have smuggled it out.  Miles double-checks with the hostels, and neither Firka or Dubauer have returned.  Miles calls the security office, and speaks to Teris Three, night-shift supervisor, Chief Venn having also gone to snatch some sleep.  Miles asks for them to detain Firka, for the purposes of fast-penta interrogation, as a material witness.  Teris Three says that they can’t do that without a formal charge, and an adjudicator to authorize the fast-penta.  Miles offers a charge of littering, and illegal disposal of organic matter, which Teris Three agrees is a misdemeanor, at least.  She says they’re undermanned, but she’ll put out a bulletin for him; Miles promises to send her pictures of him.

Miles and Roic inspect Firka’s image, and speculate that his toes might be prehensile enough for him to operate floater controls almost like a quaddie; emptying jugs of blood would be easier than toting a body, too.  If that were so, the initial identification of the riveter as a quaddie is suspect.  He fiddles with Firka’s image, tacking on a blond wig, and tries to decide if it’s a close enough match.

He calls up Bel to try to get a second opinion, and gets a sleepy Nicol.  When Miles asks to talk to Bel, though, Nicol says that he never came home…despite having left six hours earlier.

Comments

Some progress here, finally, as the source of the Solian blood is found, and a possible culprit found.  Firka–as he’s calling himself at this point–appears, and looks to be not only the one who planted the blood, but also the mad riveter.  What’s unknown, as yet, is his connection to Solian and/or Dubauer, both of whom were on the Idris.  And Ekaterin had probably met him already, in that earlier scene that we only got to hear about second-hand.

And now Bel gets to be the damsel in distress, disappearing mysteriously despite a security escort (a story to be told in the next chapter).  All the pieces are still not there, but once we get “Firka”‘s story all will fall into place…

It’s almost not worth mentioning at this point how the medtechs don’t get names.  Though the surgeon on Prince Xav does, at this point.  I suppose not everyone needs to be dealt with as an individual, but sometimes we learn their names anyway.  Well, I suppose Bujold isn’t Robert Jordan, you don’t need to learn everybody’s name.

Chapter Eleven

Miles and Roic arrive at Graf Station Security Post One, in the zero-gee zone, a little after Nicol; the quaddies become noticeably warier at the arrival of the downsiders, but Chief Venn arrives eventually and ushers them inside.  Bel apparently dismissed its quaddie guard at a bubble-car stop near its home, and hasn’t been seen since; Venn says he’s sure there’s a simple explanation.  He offers Miles another liaison officer, and Miles says he’d rather have Bel Thorne, and calls it careless of them to have lost another downsider; he points out that Bel is another possible target of the rogue riveter.  Teris Three says that they have traced the riveter machine, purchased from a supply store near the free fall docks and carried out, but the clerk can’t remember for sure who bought it.

Teris Three also brings up Miles’s request to detain Firka, and Miles explains about tracking down the source of the synthesized blood, and describes Firka’s unusual appearance.  Venn authorizes Teris Three to disseminate Firka’s description–and, at Nicol’s insistence, adds a request to look out for Bel Thorne.  Miles adds a request to take Dubauer into custody–“protective” custory, at least–because of its suspicious current absence, and also its presence at the rivet-gun attack; Venn acquiesces to that as well.  Teris Three leaves, going off shift, and Venn offers to send Nicol home as well, but she says she’d prefer to stay and wait for news, and Miles declares his intention to stay with her.  Venn shifts them out of his office into a private waiting room.

Miles wonders to himself whether Bel had any other ImpSec cases that might relate to his disappearance, but can’t ask Nicol about it since she doesn’t seem to be in the know about Bel’s second job.  Nicol and Roic make small talk while Miles tries to decide what to do next; he’d hoped to have Firka and Dubauer in hand to fast-penta this morning, but they all seem to have disappeared.

Teris Three comes to fetch Miles back to talk to Venn, who is just imploring Sealer Greenlaw to come deal with Miles; Teris Three says that Bel dismissed it escort at the Joint, a main hub in the station, because it had bumped into Garnet Five and went to talk to her.  Venn intimates that perhaps Bel might have been having an affair with her, and Miles refrains from commenting apart from suggesting they call her.  Venn obliges, but gets a recording; Miles suggests they send a trooper to check on her.

Miles returns to update Nicol, who can suggest several innocent reasons Garnet Five might have wanted to talk to Bel, such as trying to get some information about or affecting Corbeau, or just wanting someone to discuss her currently-unpopular paramour with.  Miles points out that wouldn’t account for Bel’s continued absence, and wishes heartily that he had more information.  He decides it’s late enough to call Ekaterin, who claims to have been already awake, updating her on Bel’s disappearance.  She seeks assurance that he’s keeping protection, and Miles offers to send her home on ahead of him, which she refuses to commit to.

Miles is just considering heading out to wander the station in hope of finding something helpful when Garnet Five arrives, demanding to talk to Lord Vorkosigan.  She finds their room and greets Nicol with a hug; she says Bel was gone when she came to, and Miles urges her to tell the story a little more coherently.  Garnet Five says she’d bumped into Bel and asked him about Corbeau, so they went to get some peppermint tea.  Bel became distracted when it saw a quaddie that it suspected of fencing stolen cargo talking to an odd-looking downsider.

“Tall, lanky fellow with webbed hands and long feet, and a big barrel chest? Looks sort of like his mother might have married the Frog Prince, but the kiss didn’t quite work out?” Miles asked.

Garnet Five stared. “Why, yes. Well, I’m not sure about the chest—he was wearing this loose, flippy cape-thing. How did you know?”

“This is about the third time he’s turned up in this case. You might say he’s riveted my attention. But go on, then what?”

Bel sat with its back to them and had Garnet Five report on them; the quaddie spotted Bel and left, and Bel insisted on following Firka when he left too.  Garnet Five stayed with it; Firka doubled back onto the grav side of the station, and then apparently lay in wait for them, spraying some chemical in their faces that knocked them out.  When she woke up, Bel was gone, and she was left inside a recycle bin; she extricated herself, located a patroller, and came straight to the station, so Miles estimates she was out for at least six hours.  He recommends she get a blood sample taken right away in case there’s still traces of the drug in her system, which she agrees to.

When Miles had assured himself that Garnet Five had been taken into competent medical hands, and plenty of them, he turned back to Teris Three.

“It isn’t just my airy theories any more,” he told her. “You have a valid assault charge on this Firka fellow. Can’t you step up the search?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered grimly. “This one’s going out on all the com channels, now. He attacked a quaddie. And he released toxic volatiles into the public air.”

Miles makes a nuisance of himself until Chief Venn agrees to send him, with an escort, back to the scene of Firka’s attack, where there are already CSI quaddies at work, scanning for fingerprints and gathering samples.  Enjoined from poking around while they’re gathering evidence, Miles wanders around, looking for clues or hidden messages or something.  The CSI techs note a suspicious deficiency of evidence, as if it’s already been swept once; Miles manages to convince the patroller to scan the corridor that Bel and Garnet Five came down, checking for more evidence, or unlocked doors, but they don’t find anything too interesting.  Miles tries to picture what Firka would have done with Bel’s unconscious form, which would have to taken out through one of the never-quite-deserted adjoining corridors.

Attracted by the smell of nearby baking, Miles decides it’s a good time for breakfast, so they head into a café.  Miles is enjoying their fresh fruit when the holovid in the corner pipes up with a safety bulletin, complete with pictures of Firka and Bel; the server tells them that it’s been running every fifteen minutes, and summarizes the bits that Miles didn’t catch.  Miles wonders if this will drive Firka to panic, or to turn himself in…  He tries to remind himself of his real mission, to free the fleet, but right now he’s more worried about finding Bel, and he can’t figure out how to parlay this series of events to his advantage.

They return to the security post, with not much news for Nicol, though he’s unable to reassure her about what Firka have wanted Bel for.  They are interrupted by new arrivals.

A pair of husky male quaddies in the orange work shirts and shorts of Docks and Locks managed the two ends of a three-meter length of pipe. Firka occupied the middle.

The unhappy downsider’s wrists and ankles were lashed to the pipe with swathes of electrical tape, bending him in a U, with another rectangle of tape plastered across his mouth, muffling his moans. His eyes were wide, and rolled in panic. Three more quaddies in orange, panting and rumpled, one with a red bruise starting around his eye, bobbed along beside as outriders.

The work crew took aim and floated with their squirming burden through free fall to fetch up with a thump at the reception desk. A quartet of uniformed security quaddies appeared from another portal to gather and stare at this unwilling prize; the desk sergeant hit his intercom, and lowered his voice to speak into it in a rapid undertone.

The spokes-quaddie for the posse bustled forward, a smile of grim satisfaction on his bruised face. “We caught him for you.”

Comments

Lots of investigating in this chapter, and evidence gathered, but not the kind that is immediately obvious–fibers, skin cells, dust samples, whatever.  Understandably frustrating for Miles, and not all that exciting for the reader either, perhaps.  But the assault on Bel and Garnet Five does at last motivate the quaddies to look for Firka, and successfully, as it turns out.  Which is to say, good for them–traditionally these kinds of civilians aren’t too useful in these situations, but looks like this time they managed to pull it off.

I also sympathize with Miles feeling like he’s losing track of his initial goal, because his investigation seems to be leading him in odd directions.  On one level, to free the fleet he needs to bail out the captive Barrayarans, but to convince Admiral Vorpatril to leave he also needs to find Solian, or at least find out what happened to him.  Stumbling on the ba Dubauer wasn’t really related directly to Solian, it was more something that happened because of the lockdown of the ships, but you bet your ass that Dubauer was related to Solian’s disappearance, even if Miles hasn’t found the connection yet.

Like I said, it reminds me of Cetaganda, where Miles was there to investigate the soletta destruction, and ended up drawn into mysterious goings-on in the terraforming department, which led right back to the soletta accident, by way of the Komarran conspirators and their need to finance their scheme.  Stumbling on that was really just luck on Miles’s part, but on Graf Station there are comparatively fewer things going on, so it’s less remarkable that the oddities he finds there are directly connected to his case.  Though I don’t recall right now exactly how, or if, this helps get his ships out of dock…

It’s amusing how they take Firka more seriously now.  After all, they can get him now for contaminating the public air.  Well, Graf Station is like Kline Station–they take their closed system very seriously.


At some point recently, while in bed, I’d come up with some amusing alternate titles for Vorkosigan books, in the form of Miles Vorkosigan and the… or Cordelia Naismith and the…  And she told me to write them down, and I said I’d remember, and…well, they’re gone.  I’ll try to remember some of them and share them next time.  Or feel free to put some in the comments (he said hopefully).

As for Diplomatic Immunity, we’re going to be getting a lot more backstory in the next chapter or two, and find out more about “Firka” and Dubauer and what’s really going on.  So that’ll be fun.  Until next week, then…if I’m not busy with a last-minute push on my taxes.

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Greetings, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the Internet’s favourite reread of the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, as far as I know.  This week I will continue through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is called upon to defuse a situation in Quaddiespace, on his honeymoon no less, and finds more than he bargained for.  This week I cover chapters Eight and Nine, wherein the plot does, in fact, definitely begin to thicken, after the unexpected sniper attack that ended our previous chapter…

Chapter Eight

Miles said in a muffled voice, “Bel, will you please get off my head?”

There was a brief pause. Then Bel rolled away and, cautiously, sat up, head hunched into collar. “Sorry,” said Bel gruffly. “Thought for a moment there I was about to lose you. Again.”

Miles examines the floor, covered with gouges; he reaches for a small brass object rolling by, but it’s too hot to touch.  Dubauer has a trickle of blood coming from its face, but seems otherwise unhurt; Miles lends it his handkerchief to staunch the wound.  Miles tries to decide if it’s flattering to have someone trying to kill him, if it means that he’s on the right track.

One of the hostel staff comes over to check on them, and tells them that whoever was firing dropped their weapon over the edge of the balcony when they fled.  Miles and Bel go to examine it, and identify it as an automated hot riveter, obviously much hacked to weaponize it.  It can’t have had much accuracy, but Miles reflects that if a burst of rivets had hit his head, cryo-revival would have been pointless, leaving Ekaterin widowed on her honeymoon…  Seized with fear for his wife, he immediately pages Roic and tells him to guard Ekaterin; he considers ordering them off the station, but decides that Kestrel wouldn’t be safe enough if someone is hunting Vorkosigans.  He gives Roic a brief summary of what happened, but tells the armsman to stay with Ekaterin, since quaddie security is beginning to arrive.

Miles apologizes to Dubauer, saying it can be dangerous to be too close to him.  Dubauer says they must have saved its life, and says it didn’t see anything.  Miles asks for his handkerchief back–Ekaterin made it herself–and Dubauer offers to have it cleaned and returned, but Miles says that his batman can do that, and plucks it out of the herm’s hand.

A quaddie patrolwoman asks them what happened, and Bel gives her a detailed account of the events.  Nobody else proves to have anything more than minor wounds, to Miles’s relief.  The patrolwoman asks for gender and species of the attacker, and nobody is quite sure, though a couple of witnesses aver that it was a quaddie in a float chair.  Miles quietly asks Bel about the riveter; Bel says it wouldn’t raise eyebrows, carrying it around the station, and says it’s locally manufactured.  Miles says they’ll need to ask Venn to find out about its origins, and who bought it.  Miles feels himself on adrenaline high, and also secretly pleased at the prospect of a murderous quaddie to knock Greenlaw off her high horse…if she wasn’t behind the attempt in the first place.

Venn himself arrives with the medics, and asks Miles if he was hit; Miles emphasizes Bel’s role in saving him, and the herm is rapidly acclaimed as a hero.  A patroller returns to tell Venn that they lost the attacker, and there is a lack of consensus among witnesses about its description.  Bel admits it was reminded of a downsider it had seen recently, but that can’t be it; Miles doesn’t have much of a distinctive image either, and wishes one of these people had happened to be filming at the time, but none were.

Dubauer, refusing medical attention, asks to return to its room; Bel apologizes and says it will arrange the visit to the Idris as soon as possible.  The media is beginning to arrive, and Sealer Greenlaw; Miles gives them the same story he had Venn, including Bel’s heroics.

Greenlaw said stiffly, “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, may I convey my profound personal apologies for this untoward incident. I assure you, all of the Union’s resources will be turned to tracking down what I am certain must be an unbalanced individual and danger to us all.”

Danger to us all indeed. “I don’t know what’s going on, here,” said Miles. He let his voice sharpen. “And clearly, neither do you. This is no diplomatic chess game any more. Someone seems to be trying to start a damned war in here. They nearly succeeded.”

Miles theorizes that the attacker’s motive might have been revenge, for someone wounded in the Barrayaran attack, though Greenlaw asserts that none of the wounded had died.  He receives a call from Admiral Vorpatril, asking about the attack, and telling Miles he has the fleet on full alert.  Miles orders him to stand down, and to do nothing without explicit orders; he explains to Greenlaw that, since he’s the Emperor’s Voice, an attack on him is tantamount to an attack on the Emperor himself, hence his allusion to starting a war.

“So on Barrayar, what kind of justice you receive depends on who you are? Interesting. I do not regret to inform you, Lord Vorkosigan, that on Graf Station you will be treated like any other victim—no better, no worse. Oddly enough, this is no loss for you.”

“How salutary for me,” said Miles dryly. “And while you’re proving how unimpressed you are with my Imperial authority, a dangerous killer remains at large. What will it be to lovely, egalitarian Graf Station if he goes for a less personal method of disposing of me next time, such as a large bomb? Trust me—even on Barrayar, we all die the same. Shall we continue this discussion in private?”

Ekaterin arrives then, with Roic, Nicol and Garnet Five, and hugs Miles fiercely in front of the vid cameras, Nicole doing the same with Bel.  Roic tells him that he got the access codes to the _Idris_, but the quaddies wouldn’t let him board; Miles says that that problem may have been solved for them.  Greenlaw ushers them into a meeting room; Ekaterin remarks on Miles’s improved mood, what with someone having shot at him, and Miles admits that he was an adrenaline junkie, but he figured out years ago that he had to kick the habit.

Greenlaw begins by apologizing, and Miles seizes control to say that if this was not just random violence–which Greenlaw denies–then it must be connected to the Solian affair.  Which, he says, has been artificially hampered by a lack of communication between the two sides.  He trusts the quaddies to look for his assailant, and he in turn will do all that is possible to find Solian, hoping that the two will meet in the middle.

She blinked, seeming a little surprised by this turn of discourse. “Possibly . . .”

“Good. Then I want complete and unimpeded access for me, my assistant Armsman Roic, and anyone else I may designate to any and all areas and records pertinent to this search. Starting with the Idris, and starting immediately!”

“We cannot give downsiders license to roam at will over Station secure areas that—”

“Madam Sealer. You are here to promote and protect Union interests, as I am to promote and protect Barrayaran interests. But if there is anything at all about this mess that’s good for either Quaddiespace or the Imperium, it’s not apparent to me! Is it to you?”

Greenlaw turns to Bel then, thanking it for its courage and quick thinking, which Bel modestly downplays.  Ekaterin thanks it as well, and Nicol; Miles agrees, and asks if the herm may keep him company for the remainder of his visit.  Greenlaw and Bel assent, and Greenlaw then allows Miles access to secured areas, under Bel’s supervision.  Miles tries to appear dubious, not wanting to impose on Bel’s time; Bel says it is willing, provided it is paid overtime and freed of regular duties for the interim, and Miles mentally notes that this will put the herm on triple time…

Miles says he wants to start with the Idris, and asks Ekaterin to return to the Prince Xav for her own safety, to which she agrees.  He asks for a Barrayaran personnel shuttle to be allowed to take her out, but Greenlaw refuses, since that’s how Barrayarans invaded the station the last time.  She offers a pod and quaddie pilot, and Miles expresses a similar distrust of unknown quaddies given the recent attack.  Bel breaks the impasse by offering to choose the pilot himself, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to let him know; the admiral is clearly aware that this is a sign the situation is getting more serious, and asks to be updated at Miles’s earliest convenience.

As they are leaving, Miles considers trajectories from the railing, and wonders if Bel might have been the target; he asks Bel if it has been involved in any indiscreet romantic liaisons.  Dubauer was also there, of course, but Miles can’t think of how the herm might have been able to anger any quaddie quite that much.

Comments

Nobody is able to agree on anything about the attacker except for a couple that say it was probably a quaddie in a float chair.  I’m not sure why Miles seizes on this fact so quickly, except for the fact that he can use it as leverage against Sealer Greenlaw…but even then, he wouldn’t have to believe it himself, which he seems to.  Bel discounts one suspicion about the attacker’s identity because that person was a downsider…rather than try to reconsider whether or not the attacker was a quaddie.  I don’t know, this time through, that seems to bother me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty damn sure that it wasn’t no quaddie.

It’s also a little convenient that Miles ends up with Dubauer’s blood on his handkerchief.  The herm puts up a bit of a fuss about it, but stops short of outright struggle, so I suppose it doesn’t want to show too much reluctance in leaving a blood sample in Miles’s hands.  Maybe it’s just another one of those things that only sticks out on a reread.

Chapter Nine

Bel’s designated quaddie pilot arrives to take Ekaterin away; Miles reminds her to check in with him via wristcom.  Bel calls Dubauer down to the lobby to accompany them to the Idris; they take a shortcut to the loading bay, and Bel gets them past the guards and onto the ship.

The Idris, like its sister ship the Rudra, was of a utilitarian design that dispensed with elegance. It was essentially a bundle of seven huge parallel cylinders: the central-most devoted to personnel, four of the outer six given to freight. The other two nacelles, opposite each other in the outer ring, housed the ship’s Necklin rods that generated the field to fold it through jump points. Normal-space engines behind, mass shield generators in front. The ship rotated around its central axis to bring each outer cylinder to alignment with the stationside freight lock for automated loading or unloading of containers, or hand loading of more delicate goods. The design was not without added safety value, for in the event of a pressurization loss in one or more cylinders, any of the others could serve as a refuge while repairs were made or evacuation effected.

They pass through a freight nacelle, and then into the personnel area.  Roic indicates the way to Solian’s office, while Bel escorts Dubauer to the outer freight section that holds its animals.  Roic admits them to the office, tiny and barely enough for some cabinets and a comconsole; Miles checks out the latter while Roic starts on the cabinets.  There are no personal touches in the office, but then Brun’s investigators already looked through it after Solian’s initial disappearance.  Miles examines Solian’s logs, but finds nothing suspicious in there, nothing that indicates he might have thought someone was trying to kill him.  There are video records of anyone passing through airlocks, but it’ll take time to go through ten days of them, and it will also take a while to look for any records that Solian (if he’d actually deserted) might have deleted.  Miles makes copies, and they move on to Solian’s personal cabin, which proves to be similarly uninformative, nothing personal left except for Solian’s custom pressure suit.  They head back to look over the airlock vid records.

Bel returns after a while, though it says that Dubauer is still busily servicing the replicators, of which there are close to a thousand.  Miles wonders at the extravagance, noting that animals are more often shipped as frozen embryos, like his grandfather did with horses, not developing fetuses; he supposes that this way travel time can also be gestation time.  They check on his cargo–boarded at Komarr, bound for Xerxes, next stop after Graf Station, booked weeks before the fleet departed, but no info on ultimate source before Komarr or destination after Xerxes.  Miles asks Bel if something is bothering him; Bel says there’s something odd about Dubauer, but it can’t say exactly what, and Miles makes a note to check on Dubauer’s coming and goings.

Bel, watching him, remarked, “Greenlaw was secretly impressed with you, by the way.”

“Oh, yeah? She’s certainly managed to keep it a secret from me.”

Bel’s grin sparked. “She told me you appeared very task oriented. That’s a compliment, in Quaddiespace. I didn’t explain to her that you considered getting shot at to be a normal part of your daily routine.”

Miles protests that he’s trying to be more rear-echelon, and getting too old for the front lines, plus he’s about to become a father, and measuring himself against his own father has him a bit daunted.  Dubauer returns, done with its tasks, and asks for an escort back to the hostel, for which purpose Bel is willing to grant one of the quaddie guards.  Dubauer also tells them that if they’re stuck at the station much longer it’ll have to start destroying fetuses grown too large for their containers.  While it does have insurance to cover the financial loss, it would also like to gather tissue samples from the animals to recoup their “proprietary bioengineering”, and facilities to recycle them.  It asks for permission to stay aboard Idris for that purpose, which Bel isn’t sure about.  Miles suggests alternative, like hiring a faster ship, but Dubauer wonders who would pay for such a thing.

When Bel returns from escorting Dubauer out, Miles says he wants to look at the herm’s cargo.  Bel says it can’t help there, since each passenger’s rented cargo space is private to themselves, and even Graf Station hasn’t gotten access to them yet.  Miles says that he’s an Imperial Auditor, the ship is Barrayaran-registered, and owned by the Empress’s family, so he has a perfect right to go wherever he wants; Roic gets Solian’s security overrides and they head off to the freight nacelle.

The racks of replicators are impressive and densely packed.  Miles looks over them, confirming Bel’s estimate of a thousand, and wonders that they’re no larger than regular human uterine replicators.  He doesn’t find any maker’s marks or serial numbers; he brings up the monitor screen on one of them, and is shocked to see a familiar screaming-bird pattern.  When Bel asks him what the problem is, Miles tells him that this is the sign of the Cetagandan Star Crèche, and explains how high up that is, about the haut-ladies and their efforts to perfect their genomes.  Miles checks more closely on the monitor, and confirms that the fetus inside is all too human; they check throughout the room, and every replicator they look at proves to be occupied with a human fetus.

Roic, puzzled, asks what a Betan herm is doing with all this Cetagandan stuff; Miles asks Bel if it really thinks that Dubauer is Betan, and Bel admits it never really came up, but insists that there’s something off.  Miles says that Dubauer has no facial down, like a real herm would, and speculates that Dubauer is not actually a double-sexed Betan hermaphrodite, but a sexless Cetagandan ba; a sample of the haut-ladies’ work, probably closely related, genetically, to Emperor Fletchir Giaja, which may explain why Miles thought it looked familiar.

Miles wonders what this Cetagandan ba would be doing here, with all these Cetagandan fetuses, traveling covertly, and on a Barrayaran ship, no less.  He wonders if the Star Crèche is up to something peculiar, and why Dubauer would be so willing to terminate all the fetuses rather than ask for help.  Bel suggests that perhaps Dubauer is just using this to try to convince the Barrayarans to work harder to get the ships free, but Miles doesn’t buy it.

He tells Bel to lock Idris back down completely, not letting anyone else on board, because he actually thinks it’s time to check with his superiors before proceeding; he recalls with disquiet Gregor’s mention of unrest around Rho Ceta, and can’t help but think it’s related.  Bel protests that it’s going to look funny, after all the work they’ve done to get Dubauer access to the ship; it asks if it should report Dubauer as a possible danger, and suggests that the ba may have, after all, been the target of the rogue riveter.  Miles says that Bel knows about the danger, so technically Graf Station knows; Bel finds this unconvincing, but accedes to Miles’s request to keep this to itself for a little while.

“I want the secured comconsole in the Kestrel. We’ll seal this hold and continue later. Wait. I want to have a look at Dubauer’s cabin, first.”

“Miles, have you ever heard of the concept of a search warrant?”

“Dear Bel, how fussy you have grown in your old age. This is a Barrayaran ship, and I am Gregor’s Voice. I don’t ask for search warrants, I issue them.”

Dubauer’s cabin proves just as unenlightening as Solian’s; Miles makes a mental note to have it, and the cargo hold, searched more forensically, though he’s not sure the Barrayarans are qualified for the task, and he doesn’t want to trust the quaddies with it.  He asks Bel if the Cetagandans have any agents, and Bel says they’d likely be on Union Station; neither Barrayar nor Cetaganda have a full-time consul, just a quaddie lawyer who keeps documents for both of them, and several other polities as well.  Bel calls Venn for an update on the search for the rogue riveter, but there doesn’t seem to have been any progress.

They leave the Idris and head for the Kestrel, arriving without incident.  Miles asks how difficult it would be to get permission from Greenlaw to fast-penta Dubauer; Bel said they’d need to be able to convince a quaddie judge it was necessary, which he doesn’t find likely.  Miles suggests just ambushing Dubauer on the Idris, but Bel thinks it’d be too risky, especially if Dubauer is innocent.

“Dubauer’s not innocent. At the very least, it’s lied about its cargo.”

“Not necessarily. Its manifest just reads, Mammals, genetically altered, assorted. You can’t say they aren’t mammals.”

“Transporting minors for immoral purposes, then. Slave trading. Hell, I’ll think of something.”

Closeted with his secure comconsole, he composes himself, considering how long it’ll be likely to take before his message reaches its destination; they can’t go faster than lightspeed between jump gates, and at the jump gates they are relayed periodically, at the major jump points, by special message ships, or any passing ship on the minor routes.  It’ll take several days, at least, to get a message to Barrayar from here.  He composes it anyway, sending it to Gregor, Guy Allegre, and the ImpSec head on Komarr; he gives details on what he’s found, including a full description of Dubauer and its cargo, and asks for more information on the Cetagandan situation around Rho Ceta.

After he finishes sending it, Ekaterin pages him on the wristcom; on finding that he’s actually at the comconsole, she transfers her call to that so they can see each other.  She asks if he’s eaten yet; of course he hasn’t, and she reminds him to do so before heading out again.  She asks if he turned up anything interesting, and he gives her full details of what he found on the Idris; she’s impressed, saying all she has to share is gossip.  Apparently Solian had once had to duck off a meeting with nosebleed, and she wondered if it was a chronic thing, which would make it easier for someone to get a sample of his blood to duplicate.

Ekaterin says she finds the whole centralized haut breeding thing to be odd, with the necessity for constantly shipping embryos out of the Star Crèche; Miles explains that it’s all coordinated, the haut consorts bringing the embryos out once a year, and Ekaterin wonders who Dubauer is taking those replicators to, and if it will have people to care for them all.  Miles suddenly remembers the handkerchief in his pocket with Dubauer’s blood sample on it, and says he needs to talk to Prince Xav‘s surgeon right away.

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I looked up “Idris” and “Rudra” right now, because I vaguely thought that they were both Hindu deities or something.  Turns out I was half right–Rudra was a Hindu deity, a storm god of some sort, but Idris was a prophet mentioned in the Koran.  I think I was thinking of Indra, rather than Idris, who is another Hindu deity.  Barrayaran warships tend to be named to honour military and political figures (and possibly both)–Prince Serg, Prince Xav, General Vorkraft…  Though the fast courier was Kestrel, of course.  I guess I hadn’t gotten a real impression that Komarr was dominantly Muslim or Hindu, but I guess those cultural groups may have been represented.  Soudha was the only one from Komarr that really struck me as either; Tuomonen was Finnish, and the others seemed fairly scattered ethnically.  But then, few of the planets are that culturally monolithic.  Lairouba sounded somewhat Arabic, Marilac vaguely French, Escobar vaguely Spanish, but Barrayar was canonically Greek/Russian/French/English.  The Jacksonian House Bharaputra, of course, is very Indian-sounding, but not Fell or Ryoval, particularly.  So there’s been some mixing, as one would expect.

Does Miles not have his Auditor’s Seal with him?  Roic has override codes that they use to get into Solian’s office, and onto his computer, and into Dubauer’s cargo bay, but that’s the kind of thing he used the Auditor’s Seal for in the past.  Did he just not take it on his honeymoon?  How unforesightful, if so; but even then, ImpSec could surely have brought it along on the Kestrel.  I don’t recall Miles even thinking of using his…though he does mention it, but only in the context as something he’ll eat if his investigation doesn’t meet up with the quaddies’.  So…would it not do him any good on a Komarran cargo ship?  His statement to Bel that he has the right to issue search warrants would contradict that.  Maybe using Solian’s access codes is just more convenient somehow?  It is for Roic, at least, I suppose.

So yes, now, finally, the real plot has started.  Because, though the ends haven’t quite met up yet, if you were to follow the threads from Solian and the rogue riveter (sorry, I just love that phrase), they would meet at Dubauer in the middle.  (And I can never help but notice that “Dubauer” does have “ba” in the middle, too.)  This plot is hearkening back to that of Cetaganda, of course, with the Star Crèche, the ba, and all that, lest you think that it was going to be based on Falling Free somehow.  (Or The Vor Game–Dubauer is really Cavilo!)


Close to the halfway point, now.  Dubauer’s already been revealed, but I suppose there’s still the rogue riveter, and finding out the rest of what’s really going on, and then trying to solve the problem, and all that.  Five more weeks, with luck, and more short, snappy chapters.

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A minute passed.  After a minute, another minute passed.  In fact, before you know it, a week had passed, and a minute later, there was a new Vorkosigan Reread post!  It’ll only take a minute, or a few minutes, to read, as I examine, in minute detail, the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week, I spent a few minutes digging into Chapters Six and Seven of Diplomatic Immunity, wherein quaddies dance and drum, and blood turns out to be not what it seems.

Chapter Six

Bel meets them at the Kestrel‘s hatch, dressed in a bright orange and dark blue outfit, based on what seems to be a common quaddie style.  It takes them to a restaurant, on the grav side but dedicated to the use of all three dimensions by the use of tables on top of pillars.  Roic even has a seat above theirs, so he can watch the whole room.  Nicol is waiting for them, and soon gets into easy conversation with Ekaterin.  Dinner conversation in general flows easily, though they steer clear of old war stories.

In a private moment, Nicol congratulates “Admiral Naismith” on his good fortune, and Miles accepts it on Lord Vorkosigan’s behalf.  She says she’s happy to stay at home from now on, but she’s worried about whether Bel will be staying with her, given that it hasn’t yet applied for citizenship.  Miles keeps mum about Bel’s private quandary about divided loyalties.

“I do note, Bel could have found a portmaster’s berth in quite a few places. It traveled a very long way to get one here, instead.”

Nicol’s smile softened. “That’s so.” She added, “Do you know, when Bel arrived at Graf Station, it still had that Betan dollar I’d paid you on Jackson’s Whole tucked in its wallet?”

Miles managed to stop the logical query, Are you sure it was the same one? on his lips before it fell out of his mouth leaving room for his downsider foot. One Betan dollar looked like any other. If Bel had claimed it for the same one, when making Nicol’s reacquaintance, who was Miles to suggest otherwise? Not that much of a spoilsport, for damn sure.

After dinner they take a bubble-car through to the zero-gee side to the Madame Minchenko Memorial Auditorium, where Nicol parts with them to ready for her performance.  The entrance to the auditorium is a regular-sized doorway, not yet crowded because of their early arrival, so Miles is surprised to find out just how large the space on the other side is.  It’s an enormous sphere, with most of one end transparent; the box seats on the surface of the sphere are arranged in hexagons, like honeycomb.

They are ushered to their assigned hex, where Garnet Five is already waiting for them, dressed elegantly except for the inflatable cast on a lower arm; Bel introduces them.  Miles thanks her for getting her admittance to the show, and apologizes right off for the behaviour of his fellow Barrayarans.  Garnet turns the discussion to the fate of Dmitri–Ensign Corbeau–and Miles mentions his several options, stressing the possibility of desertion charges if he persists in requesting asylum.  Garnet points out that his request could very well be accepted, and Miles says that even so, that would effectively result in permanent exile from his homeworld.  If he’s more cautious, he could serve out his time in the military and return to Quaddiespace a free man later.

Garnet stubbornly insists that they want to spend the rest of their lives together; Miles wants to ask how sure they are, though he’s reminded of how quickly he fell for Ekaterin, after all, but he’s not quite sure what kind of attraction is at work between Garnet and Corbeau.  Ekaterin asks about children, and Garnet says that it can all be handled via replicator, and they could decide on quaddie or legged offspring just as they could decide on the sex of the babies; quaddie-downsider relationships are far from unknown, apparently.  At Garnet’s prodding, Bel shows them a holocube of various potential offspring that he and Nicol could have, legged and quaddie, as well as both sexes and herm.  Bel says that they’d want to have a quaddie girl first, assuming of course that he gets around to his citizenship application.

The auditorium has filled up during their conversation, including a few downsiders (some of whom, stranded in midair, have to be towed to their seats by the ushers), but no other Barrayarans visible, and the show is now about to start.

Lights flared, an exuberant fountain of red and orange and gold, and from all sides, the performers flowed in. Thundered in. Quaddie males, athletic and vastly enthusiastic, in skin-fitting ship knits made splendid with glitter. Drumming.

I wasn’t expecting hand drums. Other free fall performances Miles had seen, whether dance or gymnastic, had been eerily silent except for the music and sound effects. Quaddies made their own noise, and still had hands left to play hands-across; the drummers met in the middle, clasped, gripped, exchanged momentum, turned, and doubled back in a shifting pattern. Two dozen men in free fall took up perfect station in the center of the spherical auditorium, their motion so controlled as to permit no sideways drift as the energy of their spins and duckings, twistings and turnings, flowed through their bodies one to another and on around again. The air pulsed with the rhythm of their drumming: drums of all sizes, round, oblong, two-headed; not only played by each holder, but some batted back and forth among them in an eye-and-ear-stunning cross between music and juggling, never missing a beat or a blow. The lights danced. Reflections spattered on the walls, picking out flashes from the boxes of upraised hands, arms, bright cloth, jewelry, entranced faces.

They are shortly joined by a dozen quaddie females with castanets, who add their own notes to the music.  Miles mentally compares the performance to that of a Barrayaran marching band, demonstrating skill and excellence for its own sake.  The piece goes on for twenty minutes before coming to an end in a burst of noise, the two groups leaving again to thunderous applause.  They are replaced by the orchestra, all with acoustic instruments, Ekaterin notes, Nicol with her harp and dulcimer.  The orchestral suite includes a solo dulcimer section for her, and Miles takes note of Bel’s entranced expression, though he’s doubtless heard her play many times.

After the orchestra comes the ballet piece, which Garnet Five tells them comes from a longer work, The Crossing, an epic which tells the story of their travel to Quaddiespace.  This piece is the love duet between Leo Graf and Silver, her usual part, and she hopes that her understudy doesn’t screw it up.  Leo is played by a male quaddie with fake legs, and dances clumsily enough that Miles feels a bit uncomfortable, until Bel assures him that Leo is supposed to “dance like an engineer”; Silver seems to dance well enough to Miles’s eyes, though Garnet is more critical.  Miles realizes that this love story, part of quaddie culture from its beginning, explains why romances with downsiders are so accepted in their society.

During intermission, they discuss quaddie names; Garnet Five explains that quaddies often just have single names, but the more popular ones are distinguished by numbers.  Bel says that Leo Ninety-Nine is the highest number he’s seen, and Garnet says there are eight of her name altogether; Bel says gallantly that she will surely inspire more.

The second half of the show was as impressive as the first. During one of the musical interludes, Nicol had an exquisite harp part. There were two more large group dances, one abstract and mathematical, the other narrative, apparently based on a tragic pressurization disaster of a prior generation. The finale put everyone out in the middle, for a last vigorous, dizzying whirl, with drummers, castanet players, and orchestra combining in musical support that could only be described as massive.

Miles is almost surprised that four hours have passed by the time they leave the auditorium.  They bid farewell to Garnet Five and Bel and Nicol accompany them back to the Kestrel via bubble car.  Miles reflects on how well the quaddie dance shows them to be far from handicapped by their physical differences.  This reminds him to check his brain chemicals before he goes to bed, to see if any seizures are looming.

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“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, goes a variously-attributed quote (which, according to http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/08/writing-about-music/, goes back to Martin Mull, best known to me as Colonel Mustard in the “Clue” movie), but I think that Bujold does a decent job of writing about dance in this chapter.  It probably helps if you’ve seen a vigorous dance routine that you can liken it to, but the transient nature of dance, that it can only be experienced in the moment, means that I’m willing to cut a lot of slack to an author in trying to describe it.  Giving a general impression, all that most people will retain after the experience, is good enough for me.  Somewhere out there is probably a video of Jeanne Robinson doing her impression of zero-gravity dancing, but you’ll have to find that link yourself.

The meeting and discussion with Garnet Five is the main plot significance in the chapter, brief as it is.  I’m more sympathetic with Miles, in his doubt that Corbeau and Garnet Five’s love is truly strong enough to conquer all.  I guess it’s not like they’re teenagers, but Corbeau sounds a bit young and sheltered for his age.

Chapter Seven

Miles is awakened–in what proves to be early morning, rather than the middle of the night–by Roic, notifying him of a call from Admiral Vorpatril.  Miles throws on his gray jacket and goes to take the admiral’s call; Vorpatril says that his surgeon has just confirmed that Solian’s blood sample was manufactured, and asks Miles how he knew.  He wonders if this makes it more likely that Solian was a deserter, and Miles points out that it doesn’t conclusively prove Solian still alive; Roic brings Miles a cup of coffee, as Vorpatril asks if they should share this information with Chief Venn.  Miles hesitates, but he says the next task is to find the precise piece of equipment that manufactured the fake blood in the first place, and, unfortunately, the quaddie police are better equipped to do that.  Vorpatril protests, but Miles points out that he has no authority on Graf Station except what Greenlaw and Venn allow him.  Miles will have to talk to them, especially now that they know whatever happened with the blood was planned in advance.

Miles grumbles about why nobody picked this up the first time through; Roic asks if it’s a rhetorical question.  He says that what people look for will depend on how often they have to deal with crimes.  Hassadar, which is close to Graf Station’s population, averaged one or two a month, so they had no full-time homicide or forensics people, and for really complicated cases they had to call in people from Vorbarr Sultana, where murders are closer to one a day.  So Chief Venn’s forensics expert is probably just a doctor who they call in once in a while, so it’s no surprise they’d be short of ImpSec standards.

Miles wishes he knew more about Solian, but he can’t find friends or enemies, or any evidence he’d ever been to Quaddiespace before.  He might have gotten to know someone on the Idris, but after ten days he might well have found trouble on the station as well.

He calls Chief Venn, who answers floating in zero-gee, sideways to Miles, and rudely doesn’t align his orientation.  When asked, Chief Venn admits that their last murder was seven years ago, and then three years before that; both murders were committed by downsider transients, and confirmed by fast-penta.  He doesn’t take kindly to Miles’s suggestion that his staff might be less than skilled in murder investigations, until Miles tells him about the manufactured blood.  Miles requests Venn get his staff to find out where the blood was synthesized, and if possible by whom, and Venn agrees, obviously thrown off by this new information.

Venn tells him that Sealer Greenlaw wanted to speak to him, and transfers him to her.  She tells Miles that she’s scheduled him to speak to the stranded passengers from the Komarran fleet that morning; Miles is a little nettled at her making the appointment without running it by him first, but he’s also eager to see a nice batch of potential suspects.

He split the difference between irritation and eagerness by remarking blandly, “Nice of you to let me know. Just what is it that you imagine I will be able to tell them?”

“That, I must leave to you. These people came in with you Barrayarans; they are your responsibility.”

“Madam, if that were so, they would all be on their way already. There can be no responsibility without power. It is the Union authorities who have placed them under this house arrest, and therefore the Union authorities who must free them.”

“When you finish settling the fines, costs, and charges your people have incurred here, we will be only too happy to do so.”

He passes on to her the news about Solian’s blood sample, and she says it looks more like desertion than murder.  Miles challenges her to find a living Solian, then, and she says that Quaddiespace is not totalitarian, privacy and freedom of movement being guaranteed.  Miles says that he still thinks Solian is dead, and if so it’s his responsibility and duty to find justice for him.  He signs off hoping he’s ruined her morning, at least.

He asks Roic if he’s ever done a murder investigation, and Roic says he has done a number of investigations, but not strictly murders.  He charges Roic with tracking Solian’s movements as closely as he can, finding any gaps in time, and finding out anything he can about Solian from the crew of the Idris.  Roic protests that Miles will still need security, and Miles says that he will be with Captain Thorne, at least, which doesn’t completely mollify his armsman.  Miles then heads back to his cabin to get dressed, passing Ekaterin on the way.  He asks if she wants to join him in talking to the passengers.

“A Countess is by law and tradition something of an assistant Count. An Auditor’s wife, however, is not an assistant Auditor,” she said in a firm tone, reminiscent to Miles’s ear of her aunt—Professora Vorthys was herself an Auditor’s spouse of some experience. “Nicol and Garnet Five made arrangements to take me out this morning and show me quaddie horticulture. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stick to my original plan.”

Miles apologizes for this unplanned diversion on their honeymoon, and Ekaterin assures him she’s having a good time, but then she doesn’t have to deal with the difficult people.  She allows that maybe they can have lunch together so he can vent, but only if he also manages to eat at the same time.  He reflects that everyone in Quaddiespace is likely quite lucky that Ekaterin is along to keep him on an even keel.

The crews from the Komarran ships have been kept under house arrest on the station; the passengers were just forced to leave the ships, and are being put up in luxurious hostels, allowed to roam the station, even to leave if they want…but not with their cargoes.  The lobby of the hostel where Miles is to speak to them has a large open space, circled by a second-floor balcony, with a staircase down to the conference level.  Bel guides Miles from there to a meeting room with about eighty galactics.

Galactic traders with a keenly honed sense of the value of their time, and no Barrayaran cultural inhibitions about Imperial Auditors, they unleashed several days of accumulated frustrations upon Miles the moment he stepped to the front and turned to face them. Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. Not that his answers to their barrage of questions were any special tax on the translators—what seemed ninety percent of them came up either, “I don’t know yet,” or “Ask Sealer Greenlaw.” The fourth iteration of this latter litany was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, “But Greenlaw said to ask you!”, except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, “Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!”

Bel points out to Miles the ones who’d tried to bribe him to leave, and then he asks anyone who’d met Lieutenant Solian to stay and talk to him.  One man–or herm–stays to talk to Bel about his cargo.  Miles guesses it to be close to a century in age, for a Betan, with elegant features that remind Miles of something he can’t quite recall.  The herm, who introduces itself as Ker Dubauer, says it is transporting several hundred replicators full of engineered animal fetuses, whose next service is due.  It asks to be allowed to service the replicators, and adds that they will be reaching term soon, and if he doesn’t reach his destination by then, they’ll likely need to be destroyed.  When Miles asks, Dubauer says the animals are mostly sheep and goats, with a few specialties.

Bel leaves to go pass the request to Boss Watts; Miles asks Dubauer, who still seems naggingly familiar, if they’ve ever met, but Dubauer says they have not.  Miles asks him about Solian, but Dubauer says he’d only seen him at a distance, never talked to him; Miles decides not to bother telling him about the fake blood.  Several other passengers have by now lined up with tales of Solian to tell, but none of them prove to be particularly useful; Miles wishes for some fast-penta to use, but the only people the quaddies would let him use it on–the Barrayaran crew–are far from likely suspects.

Miles is effectively done by the time Bel returns to say that it can escort Dubauer aboard the Idris to service his cargo.  Miles is running a little late for lunch, but with luck he might be able to catch up with Ekaterin anyway.  They climb up the stairs to the lobby, and he and Bel, both automatically scanning for any threats.  Thus, they both spot a figure on the balcony lifting an oblong box up to the railing.

Miles had a flashing impression of dark eyes in a milky face beneath a mop of brass-blond curls, staring down intently at him. He and Bel, on either side of Dubauer, reached spontaneously and together for the startled Betan’s arms and flung themselves forward. Bright bursts from the box chattered with a loud, echoing, tapping noise. Blood spattered from Dubauer’s cheek as the herm was yanked along; something like a swarm of angry bees seemed to pass directly over Miles’s head. Then they were, all three, sliding on their stomachs to cover behind the wide marble drums holding the flowers. The bees seemed to follow them; pellets of safety glass exploded in all directions, and chips of marble fountained in a wide spray. A vast vibrato filled the room, shook the air, the thunderous thrumming noise sliced with screams and cries.

Miles, trying to raise his head for a quick glance, was crushed down again by Bel diving over the intervening Betan and landing on him in a smothering clutch. He could only hear the aftermath: more yells, the sudden cessation of the hammering, a heavy clunk. A woman’s voice sobbed and hiccoughed in the startling silence, then was choked down to a spasmodic gulping. His hand jerked at a soft, cool kiss, but it was only a few last shredded leaves and flower petals sifting gently down out of the air to settle all around them.

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I thought that, in Komarr, Miles had learned his lesson about not fast-pentaing everybody in sight.  There, he admits to himself that if he’d gotten out the fast-penta for everyone in the terraforming station, and the Waste Heat Experiment Station, the case would have been closed much sooner.  (And Tien would still be alive, and maybe Ekaterin would have still been married to him…or not, I suppose, because his bribe-taking would have been exposed with all the rest.)  And now he balks at interrogating all of the crew on the Barrayaran ships, just because they’re not high on his suspect list?  I suppose that such a high-handed move would win him few friends among his own military, and while the significant penalties for mistreatment of an Imperial Auditor would probably discourage any outright mutiny, I’m sure it would set off a lot of recalcitrance and foot-dragging whenever he actually asked them for help.  But still…

Dubauer, Dubauer…oh, I remember, he was the guy from Shards of Honour whose brain Bothari fried with the nerve disrupter, that Cordelia and Aral had to shepherd across the Sergyaran landscape.  Since the name turns out to be a pseudonym, one is almost tempted to conjecture that it’s somehow related, but I doubt that “Dubauer” had any way of expecting that Miles Vorkosigan would end up on Graf Station because of its actions.  So it’s just a coincidence…though one with a little clue hidden in the letters, no doubt inadvertently.

Roic’s contribution, in pointing out how inexperienced the quaddies would be with murder investigations, was an interesting one.  Venn was a little smug, perhaps, in pointing out that the two murders that Graf Station had seen in ten years both involved downsiders.  What is Bujold trying to say about quaddie society?  That it’s more peaceful than human?  That legs make you more violent and murderous, or lack of privacy and restricted movement?  Or is it just that Graf Station is too “small-town” and homey?  I remain a little skeptical that this is anything more than a statistical blip.  After all, we just got to see, in the book’s first real action scene (that isn’t hearsay from someone else), that there is violence on Graf Station.  Even if it also seems to involve offworlders…


More short, snappy chapters, that’s what I like.   Plus we’re getting into the real plot for sure, now.  I also note that, since there are nineteen chapters in the book overall, we’re over a third of the way through.  So it’s about time for things to start happening…  Next week, doubtless, even more things will happen!  So, until then…

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